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Creating a future for North East acting talent

TALENTED and ambitious youngsters can audition for the National Youth Orchestra, the National Youth Theatre or even the National Youth Music Theatre.

Amy Tibbett, 16 and Alex Ayre, 17 who have been selected for the National Youth Film Academy

TALENTED and ambitious youngsters can audition for the National Youth Orchestra, the National Youth Theatre or even the National Youth Music Theatre.

That’s all well and good but for Rob Earnshaw, who was himself a member of the National Youth Theatre not too many years ago, there was an obvious gap in this provision.

Thanks to his drive, contacts and charm, there is now a National Youth Film Academy (NYFA) to add to the list.

It’s a pilot project at the moment, explains Rob in his office at Hoults Yard, the complex of creative small businesses off Newcastle’s City Road.

“The idea is to see if the model works and then look for a board of trustees and set up as a charity,” he says.

Still only on the cusp of his mid-20s, Rob might be said to have an old head on young shoulders. He was still a pupil at Queen Elizabeth High School in Hexham when he had the idea for an online directory of theatre and entertainment professionals for use by those hoping to break into the industry.

He duly established theactingwebsite.com with help from The Prince’s Trust and the Northumberland Enterprise Fund.

Following that came thecastingwebsite.com, a directory of largely teenage talent for use by casting directors looking for young actors for stage or screen.

He has built up extensive contacts in the entertainment industry and can point to several young actors whose big break he had a hand in.

As we talk now at Hoults Yard, the first two North East members of the National Youth Film Academy are having their photo taken and looking suitably excited about what lies ahead.

Alex Ayre, who is 17 and from Morpeth, is one of the 32 fledgling film-makers awarded a place on the pilot course. Amy Tibbett, 16 and from Redcar, is one of the 32 actors.

They will be among the 64 young people, aged 16 to 25, spending 10 days in August at the Southbank, London, centre of the BFI (British Film Institute) where they will meet film industry movers and shakers before being split into teams and challenged to produce a short film to be screened at a closing gala.

Rob says: “I’ve always been passionate about trying to provide opportunities for young people in an industry that can be very hard to get into.

“The National Youth Film Academy is something I’ve had an idea about for quite a while.”

When he was asked by the BFI to run a workshop for them last summer under their Future Film education programme, he saw the ideal opportunity to pitch the idea to them.

What Rob was after was support for his idea of providing mentors for young film-makers and actors. “The whole idea is to inspire young people to grow their talents,” he says with a characteristic broad smile.

The BFI agreed to provide the facilities needed for this summer’s pilot course which runs from August 15-26, climaxing in that showcase on August 26 when the short films produced in double quick time will be screened before an audience full of influential and eminent professionals, including a representative of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Since May 1, Rob has seen 3,000 hopefuls, whittling them down to the successful 64.

Rob says not all parts of the country can boast the same professional infrastructure, with opportunities in London clearly eclipsing those in other areas.

Alex, who is studying for his A-levels at Newcastle College, has been a member of the Northern Stars young film-makers’ academy based at the Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, for the past two years.

It involves weekend sessions and culminates in an Easter residential week (in Seahouses this year). He explains: “We produce three short films and each member of the course is assigned a different role. Last year I was the sound recordist on a film called Siren which went to quite a few young people’s festivals.

“I had an interest in film and thought film-making sounded like a good career choice.”

Amy’s acting experience is limited to school – Prior Pursglove College in Guisborough – but she says: “Doing this has already given me a lot more confidence in myself and I’m very excited about going to London.”

Through Rob, Amy has auditioned for a part in the film version of Apples, the novel (and later play) by Middlesbrough writer Richard Milward. A couple of times Rob confides that he thinks she is a pretty special talent.

Rob has invested personally in the NYFA but he clearly gets such a kick out of the successes of his young protégés that you know he’s not in it for the money. If this year’s pilot scheme is deemed a success, he vows that it will be back – bigger and better – next year.

“Anyone can fill in the inquiry form and we’ll keep the details on record because we will be auditioning again before too long,” he says.

For details of the course, visit www.nyfa.org.uk


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