IT WOULD be impossible to spend any time at Live Theatre this week without getting swept up in (or even knocked over by) the almost tangible atmosphere of youthful enthusiasm which has taken over the building.
Before I even get through the Newcastle venue’s automatic doors, I’ve had to sidestep a group of youngsters engaged in a variety of animated conversations and dance moves. Did I not know such a thing didn’t exist, I’d be convinced they had been marinated in drama.
You see, it’s that lovely time of year again which sees a big celebration of Live’s youth-focused work.
This year’s Summer Mix Up (aka the 11th annual Youth Festival) kicks off tomorrow and runs until Sunday.
Offering a veritable feast of opportunities to catch the talents of the next generation of performers and associated creatives, the festival will feature around 150 young people from Live’s youth theatre groups at the venue itself and satellite venues around Tyneside. There’s stand-up comedians, writers, actors, and performers ... and they’re all chomping at the proverbial bit to put the results of their hard work in front of a paying audience.
"It’s really great to see them feeling at home," says Paul James, associate director of Live’s education and participation team.
"This week is always slightly nerve-wracking because it’s the time when all the performances come together. But it’s going smoothly.
"At its centre is the idea that we have young people working with professionals. That’s what we pride ourselves on. We want to give them a professional experience. They work with professional directors and designers and stage managers ... the whole production team.
"This year we’ve got an eclectic programme showcasing the immense creativity of young people in the region. This is a must-see event."
Looking at the programme, for me, perhaps one of the must-must-see productions is Here Come The Girls.
A piece of verbatim theatre, the script has been crafted entirely from the words of a group of young women who agreed to talk about their lives – and to perform what they said on stage.
"This came out of the work we’ve been doing with young refugees and asylum seekers," explains Paul. "That work began last year with From Home To Newcastle, which was a fantastic testimonial piece."
A highlight of last year’s festival, the piece Paul refers to is the shared stories and experiences of seven young people who had grown up in places like Angola, Iran, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Tyneside.
For this year, using the same format, HCTG sees eight young women between 13 and 24 and from places like New Guinea, Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Tyneside, sharing their experiences of what it’s like being them in the 21st century.
"Working with such an interesting and inspiring group of girls has made the process of creating HCTG fantastic," says director Amy Golding.
"They are all so different and have experienced such different things and have generously shared their stories, learned about each other’s cultures, made each other laugh and surprised each other."
All the girls were interviewed and took part in story-sharing group discussions. Everything they said was recorded and transcribed before being given to local writers Carol McGuigan and Beth Coverdale who worked to edit the final piece. Clearly relishing the experience, the eight cast members have developed a close bond.
"We’ve found out so much about each other through the group sessions and obviously from seeing all the drafts of the scripts," says cast member 24-year-old Samantha Bell. "It was a bit strange seeing what you said, word for word, on paper..."
There’s an immediate agreement among the girls ... most of them wishing they could take the words "like" and "erm" out of their vocabularies.
Created using an exclusively female cast and crew, including Newcastle-based singer/songwirter Kathryn Williams who has written the music, HCTG promises to be a festival highlight. That said, it’s hard to find anything which wouldn’t come under that heading within the Summer Mix up line-up... see the info panel if you don’t believe me ... or better, bag yourself some tickets.