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Episode 2 Reflections on Young Creatives with Zest Theatre

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The Questions & Answers

What is the best thing about working with young creatives?

I would have to say it's their enthusiasm and their life experience, particularly around what it means to be young now. I think a lot of adults assume that they know what it's like to be young because they were young once but actually - we're living in a crazy time right now as it is - they have this unique perspective of what the issues are now, gen Z is more socially engaged than any generation before them so they have unique stories to tell and unique experiences to share and I think we all could appreciate that a bit more. It's one of my favourite things.

In Zest Theatre, how do you consistently empower young people to be creative and get involved in creative projects?

All of our work at Zest starts from the point of talking to young people so we can't begin a process or start making a new show until we've spoken to young people through research and development first. This is developed across our practice from integrating verbatim writing to having their actual voices in the audio of our shows to - with our last tour Youthquake - them actually being in the show through local casts in each of our locations. So it always starts with them first and I think that's why our work really resonates with them and we've extended this even further as of last December when we started our Youth Advisory Board Futureproof so now young people are embedded in every aspect of the organisation so they critique everything we do from our values through to the art that we make. They've helped us develop new maxims which is what we call the Zest values. They've developed a few new ones and re-approved all our other ones just to ensure that those are still working for them. Now they are actually consulting with us on a new piece of work.

It has to start with them because it won't speak to them unless we know what's going on with young people today.

How do you make sure that they are feeling like their voices are being heard?

It's about legacy and continuing that meaningful engagement with them. I think we know our work has always resonated with young people because they will come out to each of our new shows, we'll get incredible feedback from them in the moment about how its either given them a new perspective or accurately represented their perspective.

We often describe our work as operating on a frequency that is distinct to young people so, a lot of adults will come or a lot of industry reviewers will come to our shows and sometimes miss the point because it's not for them which to me means we're pitching it about right.

Sometimes translating to that longer term relationship can be really challenging and I think part of that is because they age out really quickly so we're engaging with these young people usually in transitional periods of their lives so right when they're about to go off to uni or about to go off to work or internships. Their lives move quite quickly and trying to keep up with that can be quite difficult but I think with Futureproof we've really successfully pulled that off in no small part due to things like the culture recovery fund which means we've been core funded for the first time this year - we've actually had that time and funding to really dig into how we create those legacy projects how we keep those young people involved and then how we develop their skills as creators and makers and help them find their own voices.

What have you learned about the importance of youth voice from working with young people?

Young people's voices are an imperative missing voice from the national conversation, even outside of the arts. We hear a lot about diversity and inclusion and protected identity. We're often asked to think about who's not present in those decision-making rooms and young people are largely left out they're even left out of that pre-conversation about who's missing.

So with repeated lockdowns effecting everything from education to socialising to missing major milestones, no-one in government through this whole covid-19 process has even thought to ask young people what their opinion on that is, even how they're feeling, what they think we should do, and it's left them feeling more unheard than they were when things were running normally because there's just so much going on that they feel they're missing out on, and I think there's this assumption that they don't know enough or they don't have anything to say and in reality they have loads to say. We just went through this process of workshops for a new piece coming up and these were young people aged 10-19 and they were bursting with ideas of how to solve everything from global warming to the pandemic, giving solutions to these massive problems and engaging in serious existentialism that caught our facilitators off-guard. They were just waiting to be asked, which is the main problem I think. These young people are going to be the people that grow up to solve all these problems so it's on us to recognise that and start to develop their confidence in pursuing those solutions.

How do you manage to engage with more introverted, less outspoken young people and ensure you're listening to them as much as the confident ones?

What we try to do in our workshops is make that space a brave space for everyone. We'll do theatre games as an icebreaker, but they'll also have an opportunity to write their thoughts down if they don't feel comfortable saying something in front of the whole class. We give them full consent over their own intellectual property and their thoughts to submit that writing to us, keep it to themselves or throw it away. Whenever we do use their words it's all anonymous anyway to protect them. They have the consent over what they tell us and how they tell us and how they share it with us and our facilitators have a talent for getting even the shy folks to speak out and making them feel comfortable in sharing only as much as they want to.

In an ideal world, what would you like to be able to offer to young people?

Over the last year we've talked about this a lot and Zest ultimately would like to reclaim space for young people, specifically in their cities. Time again when we speak to young people, they say that there's nowhere for them to go that's theirs where they don't have to spend money, don't have to participate in activities, aren't under the microscope of a carer or a parent or a guardian. Basically just a place where they can be and hang out with their friends and not be hassled by the public or adults. We would love to just have a space that can be that for them. That would be a massive capital project so these are just thought experiments we have, but that's exactly what we would do we would just try to allow young people to reclaim their public spaces within cities and we're kind of trying to do that with our new project Refresh Lincoln where we've taken their quotes and we're turning them into artwork which will be displayed around popular areas and well-known areas of Lincoln so that's our first step in that direction.

What advice would give to your younger creative self?

This boils down to 3 things for me.

  1. Enjoying the journey.

  2. Leaning into serendipity.

  3. Not being afraid to quit things that don't serve you anymore.

I think for me being socialised as we have been, (capitalist systems), it's all goal-oriented right? You think of that big goal that you want to reach and keep working for that and I think, I've had this amazing career and I feel like I could have just enjoyed it a bit more in those moments because those moments were fantastic but I was focusing on something that is ever-changing and I think you have to be ready for that to change and be ready to lean into those serendipitous opportunities as they come up because those serendipitous moments have been the best parts of my career and the most amazing parts of my life have happened because I've fallen upon them, and when that bit's done and you've done all you can do, don't be afraid to move on and say alright, I can grow somewhere else now. (Something I have to remind myself of a lot as I go!)

What's next for Zest?

Refresh Lincoln is our next big project coming up. That's going to run right here from the 10th of July to the 4th of September. It's a public art installation amplifying the voices of young people aged 10-19. We've met 800 young people we pulled 600 brilliant quotes from them and this is curated down into about 100 artworks that will be displayed around our city-centre.

It's outside so you can socially distance, so come visit Lincoln if it's safe to do so. We're also working on an online engagement element as well.

We're also working on a new audio piece that will be accessible remotely and online and we ask you to stay tuned for that one because we're still in research and development. It looks at a lot of big questions, mental wellbeing, connection and is of course developed with our amazing youth advisory board Futureproof so it is young person approved.

Where do we find Zest Theatre online?

Our website is zesttheatre.com

Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are @zesttheatre