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Borders Youth Theatre

24 September 2015
BYT Play Photograph:Copyright Kat Gollock

Borders Youth Theatre (BYT), provides professionally-led theatre experiences for young people aged 8-25 in the Scottish Borders. Around 120 people attend weekly workshops, and the organisation also runs one or two week long production workshops during the Easter, Summer and October holidays. 

BYT activities are run by contracted paid professionals but organised by a group of volunteers. The organisation receives a grant from Scottish Borders Council to help support specific work across the region, usually covering 15 - 20% of their total running costs. The rest of their income comes from other grants, local fund-raising and income from participant fees and ticket sales. They try to keep fees as low as possible to ensure access is available for young people from all backgrounds. Each year they set aside a special fund so that young people having genuine difficulty with fees can apply for assistance to have fees reduced or waived.

The young people who take part in BYT activities benefit from having an opportunity to try something new. The organisation is known for its ability to offer a supportive environment, often to those who find it difficult ‘fitting in’. The organisation isn’t just about teaching acting skills but also bringing out people’s confidence and developing social skills for life, as the participants neatly sum up:

‘BYT has helped me feel happier, not just during the workshops and productions but the rest of my life too’

‘If my son had not found BYT his life would have been awful, socially excluded’

‘I joined BYT when I was fourteen. Sadly drama wasn’t offered as a subject at my school and I was also initially unsure of myself and lacked confidence as I wasn’t sure I’d be good enough or fit in. Luckily I plucked up the courage to join in 2011 and I was instantly welcomed into the BYT group. I have not only developed so many drama skills and discovered an appreciation for theatre and performance but I have also developed as a person, onstage as well as in the real world.’

Another young man who has benefitted greatly from his involvement with BYT is Lewis Teckkam. Lewis has very limited movement and uses a powered wheelchair. BYT has worked hard to ensure that he can perform and he has expressed huge satisfaction from being able participate. In the last couple of years, as well as performing, he has begun to assist with directing and he hopes to take this further. Lewis expresses how much BYT means to him:

‘Joining Borders Youth Theatre was a life changing experience for me. Being a wheelchair user and needing a support worker on hand all the time has created barriers for me, particularly socially. I have always been ‘just one of the gang’ at BYT. Going to the weekly workshops and participating in the productions has been the most important thing in my life for many years now – not just in terms of social interaction but in helping me learn and develop a range of skills. I hope to gain more experience in writing and directing in the future.’

Some young people extend their involvement through volunteering and leadership. Although it is not a specific aim of BYT to produce ‘theatre people’ a substantial number do continue into arts related training and work. Even those who do not follow this route report that their experiences with BYT stand them in excellent stead when applying for jobs and starting out on a career path.

The grant from Foundation Scotland, through the BT Fund, came at a crucial time for BYT. BYT was unable to run their usual Easter theatre project due to lack of funds. However, they were keen for the summer project to go ahead to keep momentum up and keep the organisation in the public eye.

The grant of £1,800 contributed towards running the summer drama programme. The money was used to contract a choreographer for five days, a ‘chorus master’ for three days, a musician for final rehearsals and performances, and it paid for the hire of microphones so that performers could be heard outside. The grant also allowed the organisation to subsidise some of the participants who found it difficult to pay the fees.

The BYT summer show ‘Conversions’ took place (outdoors) at Melrose Rugby Club and took a humorous look at the place of rugby in the Scottish Borders through the fictional account of a group of young women challenging their male counterparts to a game of rugby. 31 young people took part and were involved in all elements of the production from script writing, choreography, stage management and the performance itself. The young people, who came from all over the Borders, met together for the first time on day one. A majority had taken part in BYT projects before but around a quarter were taking part for the first time.

‘I haven’t laughed so much in ages. Fantastic to see BYT continue to provide such wonderful shows and fantastic opportunities for young people’.

‘Without support from grants such as this one we simply could not have offered the project. To see individuals develop their skills over a week or two is rewarding’. David J Bisset, Acting Production Co-ordinator, BYT.

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