National Youth Theatre gives youngsters a break

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The Independent Online

Two years ago Segun Olaiya would never have dreamt he would be heading for drama school.

The 28-year-old from west London was unemployed and “in a bit of trouble” - just like the character he will be playing in a National Youth Theatre later this week.

He is one of twenty youngsters who have been plucked off the streets to take part in a drama course at the theatre’s headquarters in Holloway, London, that has given homeless youngsters a new start in life.

All the twenty had in common before they signed on was that they were - to use the official jargon - “Neets” (youngsters not in education, employment or training). Youngsters at risk and on the streets is another way of describing their circumstances..

Segun put it like this: “When I was in school I was always afraid I was missing out on something..

“Now, if I miss any time on the course, I’m afraid I’ll be missing out. It’s that way round.”

Segun will be playing the part of Brownie in a new production, Fathers Inside, at the NY this week before it transfers to London’s Soho Theatre.

“Brownie (who is in prison) is a troubled soul - a bit like myself at some point in my life,” he said.

“He is angered by his past and angered by what his father has done and put him through. He tends to take it out on other people.”

As with all the other youngsters on what is called the Playing Up Two course, Segun started by signing up for just one evening a week for a “drop in” drama course before moving on to the Playing Up One course - a one year course leading to an Open College Network certificate in drama worth the equivalent of two GCSE’s. “I thought ‘wow’, this is for me,” he said.

Successful completion of this led to Playing Up Two- which involves three days a week of study and gives the youngsters an A-level equivalent qualification which can lead on to higher education. segun has a place this autumn at the Central School of Speech and Drama in central London.

Of the twenty youngsters who started this course, 18 have completed and 14 are going on to some form of higher education. It is a success rate few could haveenvisaged when the course started.

Anna Niland, one of the managers in charge of the programme, said: “It’s quite an achievement.

“It’s quite something from where some of these youngsters have come from to commit to a course like this.”

Several of the youngsters on the course, likeTanikan Cetinkaya, aged 18, were homeless when they first heard of the course. He had dropped oput of a college course in Essex at the time.

“I was living in a hostel at the time,” he said. Now he has become a fully fledged member of the National Youth Theatre which will open up the possibility of taking part in their productions in future.

Landa Wanliss, aged 22, had to take a break from the course when she had a baby , Jarreau who is now two months old, but will complete next week.

“I was very depressed after my mother died and I was just lazing around doing nothing,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do with myself.

“I saw some flyers for the course and thought it was something I could do for a year.”

She became hooked when given the chance to play Rosa Parks (the civil rights activist who refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white person) in a play chronicling the history of the movement in the USA, In Search of Obama, and plans to look for work in radio as a presenter when she completes the course.

“It’s not about creating actors,” said Peter Collins, associate director at the NYT. “Some of them want to produce their own work and devise their own productions.

“Some people want to start their own young black theatre company.

“It’s about building young people’s confidence and giving them a chance to find a route into drama school or higher education.”

It is also about helping to rescue them from the streets - not through street theatre but moving from the streets to theatre.