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How to make theatre appeal to the youth of today

I’ve written here previously on how theatre can be an important avenue of addressing important issues in our modern society. Wrapped up in its qualities of entertainment are many layers containing themes of relevancy to the weaknesses and strengths of human kind. As a theatregoer, you can take as much or as little from these as you want; some people will analyse every aspect of a show and find something new in it with every visit, while others may recognise some of these themes but simply wish to be entertained for a few hours. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy theatre, the experience is unique to every individual, but it does tend to speak to those who already have a penchant for the art form. A show based around a particular line of events in history or one which challenges our perceptions of what/who is good or evil is not necessarily going to be the dangling carrot to attract a new breed of theatre fans, especially the younger generation. Although not true for all, as a rule, people will discover these hidden themes at the core of every show once they are already there. Focusing on the younger generation here, if you want to draw them into the theatre in the first instance then you have to offer them something that, on the surface, will appeal to them to get them there; once the bums are in the seats, then it’s up to them to find what’s lying beneath the surface.

Relevance is always an important factor in a show. If an audience can relate to its characters and plot, then the job is halfway done already. Why do you think TV shows such as The Inbetweeners are so popular with youths? Yes, The Inbetweeners is funny, undoubtedly, but laughs alone can’t explain its success. I can’t say I’ve ever been a teenage boy, but putting myself in their shoes (a frightening thought), I can imagine how most would see recognisable qualities in one or more of its four main characters or find themselves watching a familiar scene from their own life unfold on the screen in front of them. I’ve come across a ‘Will’, ‘Simon’, ‘Jay’ and ‘Neil’ at some point in my 27 years and I’m sure I’m not the only one. This is why the sitcom has done so well for itself: it’s real and relatable and perfectly captures the mind set and escapades of the dreaded teenager to a T. Just the other day, I was at the bus-stop and saw a car of young boys pull up on the other side of the road to shout out, “Bus wanker!” at their friend who was also waiting there. Another group of lads then came running along the street, with one diving through the car’s passenger window and another jumping onto its roof as the car drove off again. I do hope I’m right in assuming they were also friends of the car boys… This could have been a scene lifted straight out of The Inbetweeners though, which reflects my point exactly. Give the youth of our society something they can relate to and they will love you for it. This is true of television, so it can also be true of theatre.

In their youthful eyes, theatre is decidedly ‘uncool’. Therefore, to draw them in, it must offer them that same reality and relativity that TV shows like The Inbetweeners do. It’s hardly a unique idea on my part; there are plenty of writers and producers who have appealed to the young generation with the work they put on the stage. A nice example would be Dougal Irvine’s Departure Lounge which was based around the simple concept of four lads stuck in the departure lounge of a Malaga airport waiting for a delayed flight home from their holiday. There was much more to it than that, of course, but that basic plot would spark the interest of a young person much more than some of those playing in the West End right now. There are many young lads out there who have gone on a boy’s holiday abroad to let off a bit of steam after the stress of exams – in fact, I do believe that was exactly the premise of The Inbetweeners film…

There is also a workshop presentation of a new musical on 16th April 2012 that adds to the topic of this blog. Pierced follows the lives of five teenagers throughout the summer after they leave school, which includes such comical events as obsessing over a new crush, dreaming of finding fame on The X-Factor and social network stalking. Tamar Broadbent wrote the show while studying for her BA English exams at the University of Bristol last year and premiered it in a brief run in Bristol in June 2011, to critical acclaim. Broadbent is now a musical theatre student at the Central School of Speech and Drama and has joined forces with director Drew Baker as they plan to take the musical for a London Fringe run in 2012. The workshop this month features Dougie Carter, Rosanna Colclough, Sam Hallion, Lauren Austin and Liam Ross Mills in its cast. Everything within this new musical is likely to appeal to the younger generation as it once again offers them that sense of similarity; indeed, the Pierced is billed as a show that, ‘powerfully represents the voice of the 21st century 18 year old’.

Taste is always selective, and what you might think will be to someone’s liking can actually be the complete opposite of their taste. Without a doubt, there are plenty of teenagers out there who adore all forms of theatre and have even gone so far as to dedicate their lives to it as a career choice. When it comes to those who are more comfortable in front of the TV or hanging out with their group of friends than spending a night at the theatre though, shows like these which accurately portray the youth of today in a real, but entertaining fashion, are a vital asset to the theatre scene and should not only be supported, but actively encouraged.

By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)

Wednesday 11th April 2012

Author

  • MissJulie

    Julie is a theatre enthusiast, and is particularly keen on new writing. She writes articles each week for our website including a popular weekly ‘In Profile’ which features actors and actresses that are not in lead roles and are often in the Ensemble.

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