Episode 4 Reflections on Youth Boards with Almeida Theatre
The Questions & Answers
What Youth Boards do you work with?
I’m Rohan and I’m part of the Youth Board at the Almeida Theatre, which comprises 8 members, which normally spans 2 years but it’s changing a bit because of covid, it’s 8 people meeting once a month to talk about the building and what the theatre’s up to and advise both the Senior Board and the Senior Management Team and other members of staff on how we feel as young people about what the Almeida is doing and trying to hold them to account.
How long has this been the case?
The first Youth Board started before I joined – I joined in 2019 which is scary to think that it’s coming up to 2 years now because it really doesn’t feel like it – but it started in 2018 so although I can’t really talk about the formation of the Youth Board, what’s been quite exciting is, you had one cohort, then some people left at the end of the first year, and we had some people who continued, so at the moment it’s actually a really nice group in the sense that you’ve got some people who have been there for the whole time and have helped to establish the Youth Board’s role within the building, but equally now you’ve got some fantastic people like me who have been on the board for coming up to 2 years, who have been helping to keep the theatre going over covid.
What kinds of things would you normally be consulted about – what do they come to you for?
It changes. One of the best things about being on the Youth Board is I feel like every meeting is slightly different, there’s a slightly different agenda and there’s a new conversational debate to be had about something to do with theatre. Obviously over the last year, a lot of the things that we’ve been talking about have been about how you can build back better after covid, and being on call throughout lockdown, and being kept up to date with what the Almeida’s plans to reopen were and giving our feedback on what we wanted the theatre to do during the period and what we felt the theatre could be doing as we come out of it.
In normal times it might be conversations about being a conduit for a lot of the other youth members at the Almeida, because the Almeida also has a young company for predominantly actors, young producers and young critics. There are a lot of young people who use the Almeida and come to the Almeida regularly, so hopefully we can be advocates for them, and represent their voices but also communicate and make sure that they feel at home at the Almeida.
Equally, it could be, like I was saying earlier with senior management, it might be feeding back. I think with all organisations, some sort of bubble forms over time, and it is quite nice to have new ideas.
I think what’s been great about the Youth Board is suddenly you have a real mix of voices and experiences just to feedback on. And one of the things I’ve really enjoyed as well is that, well, I work in theatre so I’m very plugged in, but it’s also really exciting that we’ve got some people who work in museums or in audience engagement, really diverse fields, and seeing the expertise there makes you think “oh wow, the conversations that we’re having!” it’s really exciting and just very different to what you’d get if it was just all theatre directors or theatre actors. Even if it’s someone thinking oh, I like theatre but I don’t make theatre, that’s probably the best person to have feeding back.
Even now what’s really exciting is now the Youth Board is a bit more established, there are people who have gone from being on the Youth Board to being involved with the organisation, whether that’s being in marketing or in the artistic team, so that’s quite exciting and hopefully will continue moving forward.
What kinds of decisions are left up to the board and what kinds of decisions are shared with the board?
I think it’s important to know that we are ultimately an advisory board, so our job is to advise we can’t really make any decisions ourselves and I think that’s probably the right decision. It’s quite interesting talking to senior board members it’s fantastic and exciting and its really fun to learn more about the inside of a theatre organisation but ultimately there are also some themes of governance where you have to accept, ok - that’s outside of our comfort zone and that’s something that the senior board members should be responsible for rather than us. In terms of making decisions, it’s more giving the evidence and making our case and being a proper advisor in that sense. I think ultimately, we just have to go “this is how we feel about it, but ultimately you are the governors and custodians of the theatre, it’s your decision.” But there are some decisions we have been able to contribute to or make in terms of how the Youth Board itself relates to the senior board and where we can sit within the Almeida.
It appears, from the energy that you’re bringing to this interview, that you feel that your opinions and advice are really valued and taken on board?
Yeah definitely! And I know from experience that sometimes as a young person going to the theatre, I’m sure everyone that goes plays the game of looking around and going “am I the youngest person here?” So, it can sometimes feel a bit like you against the world, that you don’t have a voice and you can’t be championed in those spaces, but I think we (the Youth Board) always felt very encouraged and we don’t always agree with some of the decisions that are made but that’s fine because that’s where the debate and the collaboration come in and where we can support the theatre by having the conversation and moving on together. As with any collaborative process, like when you’re making a theatre show, it’s all collaborative and it all goes towards one shared common goal and I think that’s where we’re at as a youth board, and where the senior management team are at and where the senior board are at.
How do you recruit people for the board and how often do the members switch around?
This is the weird one in the sense that obviously, the board is still quite early on in its trajectory. But as I said in normal times it’s a 2-year term, but I think that might be changing slightly because of covid. The Almeida has been great with giving us more time and more accessibility for some of the opportunities we’ve missed.
When I was recruited there were 3 rounds basically; a short, written application, I wrote it, I’m not sure if you could also record it or film yourself but I love writing so I wrote mine, talking about why I wanted to join the youth board and why I like the Almeida and what my thoughts on the organisation were. Then I remember there was a group workshop at the building with a group of us, which was run by the current (at the time) Youth Board members, which was about seeing what ideas people had towards the Almeida and how we could gel as a group and really getting to know everyone. That was a really fun evening – we’ve all gone to those events where it can feel a bit intimidating and like you’re being examined the whole time, but actually this felt really comfortable and informal, and just about finding the people who could bring the most to the board. The final stage was just a sit-down interview with members of the team, which was only about 15 or 20 minutes, just asking similar questions to these ones – why would you want to join the board, what do you think the boards for, how could the Almeida help you? Which is something I should talk about – because that’s been quite helpful in the sense of them asking ok how could we help you and provide you with mentoring or one-on-one support if there’s anything in your career or in your life that we could help with. So that was really nice as well as it is a two-way relationship, as much as we’re there to help the Almeida, the Almeida has been great at going ok how can we help you too?
What would you say has been the most beneficial part of working with the board and what has been the most challenging part of it?
I want to say the thing I already said about having so many diverse and different people involved. It’s a strength but also, I’ve just come out of doing a drama degree so I am very in the theatre-making zone, I think there’s an interesting challenge for someone like me to go oh wow yes there are loads of different ways of looking at theatre! And it’s ok to like theatre and not necessarily want to make it, so it’s been a challenge of going “oh that’s really exciting to listen to other views” and sometimes also you’re sitting in a room realising “it’s not my place to make my voice the loudest, I’m here to listen or support and mediate the conversation.” So, I think the strength is being able to meet other board members, and especially other young people and the friendships and relationships and collaborations that can come out of that are really exciting. Also just getting to know more about the inside of the organisation and (being selfish here as someone who wants to work in theatre) learning just how human something is. I think in our heads we like to distance everything and imagine that the Almeida is some big weird entity, but ultimately it is about people and getting to know the people who run the theatre and how it reflects their personalities is sort of fascinating.
How do you ensure inclusivity and fair representation (following on from what you have already said about having such a diverse group)?
I don’t think there’s a specific system for it but we’re good as a board at looking around the room and going “ok who here has the lived experience or is most qualified to talk about a certain subject” and I think sometimes it’s good to have people who perhaps don’t know as much to talk about something to get a wide range of views. But also, there are obvious issues where it is better to hear from people who have lived-experience. I think the important thing is how we can bring those views and fit into the systems in place at the Almeida.
What has been the most enjoyable project you have taken part in?
There are two little things I’d like to talk about and then I want to do a shameless plug! It’s important to say that since I’ve joined the board, there’s been a weird time where after we got settled and had all our amazing plans, then suddenly covid hit and we had to put all our plans aside. But there was this amazing project that the Almeida participation team did last summer all about sustainability and there were loads of amazing workshops and the youth company did an audio-play, a few of us were able to be involved with that, either moderating panels and doing interviews like this and that was a lot of fun and really exciting to be directly involved with both young people but also with the organisation and allowing the program of events to reflect us. We also did a town hall event with members of the young company and young producers and young critics. I think it was late last year and we want to organise another one soon. Doing that was fantastic because you could listen to people talk about how they feel about the Almeida and what the Almeida could do to support us all. That was fantastic just to be able to chat to and get to know the people that we’re representing but also the people that have the same interests as we do just on a different side of the spectrum.
The shameless plug is – now that we’re reopening slowly, we can start to do stuff like The Almeida for Free. The first one is this Saturday (July 3rd) which is why this is so shameless! Basically, every show the Almeida does we try to do some sort of free event and I think sometimes it might just be a day as it is this time but sometimes in the past it has been a couple of days or even a week. It’s free workshops all based around whichever show is on at the time. Being involved with that as we emerge out of covid I think is going to be very exciting and very fun.
What would you say is the change or development - that you have had a hand in bringing about - of which you are most proud?
The big thing that I’d like to mention that I can’t talk too much about because I’m not the right person to talk about it, is about – obviously covid has been a big thing but also Black Lives Matter and the murder of George Floyd, and what we’ve been able to learn from that and the conversations we’ve been able to have following that within theatre and within culture and how we can better represent the communities who should see the Almeida as their local theatre. Hopefully the progress that’s been made form the conversations is really exciting and can be reflected in the programming and the audience in the years to come. I think a lot of hard work did go into those conversations and into those reflections and that was a really important thing – I’m sure that it’s something to talk about as a wider society but theatre at its best seems to reflect and capture society and one of the things that I love about the Almeida is how it has its fingers on the pulse and is able to dramatize and really bring the current questions and attitudes and debates into the live theatrical form. I think being able to do that fairly and making sure that people can see themselves onstage is important. The Almeida is at its best when it works for everyone.
Final question, tell us where we can find you online and social media?
The Almeida is on everything and hopefully we will be recruiting the next members for the youth board – details will be online!
Youtube: Almeida Theatre
And if you’ve enjoyed listening to me (Rohan) you can find me on twitter: @Rohan_Gotobed