White Rock Theatre
Established in 1997 The White Rock Theatre Summer Youth Project is a highlight of the theatre's Youth & Community Programme. More than 2,000 young people have participated since it began. The two-week long experience culminates in four performances of a full-scale musical on our main stage, under the direction of a highly-skilled and professional team.
Cultural strategy ambition(s)
Culture for everyone - Hastings' cultural offer is inclusive and accessible - there are chances for people to take part in culture and creativity in their community.
Proud to live in Hastings - Culture builds connections between communities to improve the quality of life for local people.
What did you do/what happened?
The project began in 2003 and has become a highlight of the theatre's Youth & Community Programme. It has evolved over the years, getting bigger and brighter. Summer Youth Project is self-funded and not-for-profit. Bursaries are available for participants.
Who was involved?
The project is produced by the Creative Learning Manager of the White Rock Theatre and is run by a team of over 30 people including White Rock Theatre staff, a professional freelance creative team, and volunteer helpers and chaperones from the local community.
Why did you take this approach? Was there anything novel in your approach?
The Project offers participants a crucial artistic outlet during summer holidays, as well as the unique experience of working and performing in a professional theatre. Additionally, our participants become involved in wider community activity during their time with us.
When did this happen, over what time period?
The project began in 2003 and the format has evolved over the years. In 2017, the focus of the project shifted towards increasing production values and providing participants with an improved experience.
What was involved in terms of logistics, time or resources? (i.e. how much work did it take?)
Producing Summer Youth Project is a lot of work. Planning for next year usually begins before the current one ends! Freelancers, set, costumes and volunteers are usually booked a year in advance. Participants audition for their places during Spring. We offer a familiarisation workshop before auditions take place.
Is this a first for Hastings, regionally or even nationally?
When the project began, it was the first of its kind in Hastings. We have participants come from all over the South-East and have also had international participants return year after year.
Where did you get inspiration / the idea from for this activity?
The ethos behind SYP has always been to provide the best possible training and experience, at the lowest possible cost to our participants. It is a wonderful opportunity for any young people to explore all aspects of Performing Arts, and offers a crucial artistic outlet in the summer holiday. For young people who have an interest in pursuing a career in this field, the project provides a valuable insight to the creative industries.
What difference has this made to your organisation, the people involved?
We have seen an increase in participant and audience numbers over the last 5 years. Several of our previous participants have gone on to gain scholarships with prominent theatrical schools, many more have achieved successful careers in all aspects of creative industries. Our participants often return as adults to work on the project.
What are your plans for the future?
Continue to produce the project on annual basis. Uphold the quality of productions. Develop opportunities to engage with previous participants in a professional capacity.
What advice would you give another arts organisation or creative practitioner looking to do something similar / work in Hastings?
The project is quite unique to the area given the setting we work in. In terms of engaging with young people, our advice would be to make any work as inclusive as possible.
How can your experience address commonly encountered challenges to help other arts organisation or creative practitioner working or based-in Hastings?
Funding, bursaries, payment plans and supporting parents / carers to help their young people participate.
"Summer Youth Project gave me a change of career in my forties! My involvement began as a chaperone on the project many years ago & this re-ignited my passion for working in the arts. I had a background in the music industry but had re-trained in law. Being part of SYP and seeing how it changes the lives of the young people who participate led me to gain experience in theatre & community work and I eventually progressed to producing the project and working for the theatre. I am now Head of Creative Learning for all the venues in our group."
-Jo Stead-Burgess, Head of Creative Learning, Venues - Trafalgar Theatres
"SYP has provided me, and many others like me, who want to pursue a career in the arts, the opportunity to participate in a project that is the closest experience to a professional musical production that you can get as a child. I participated for 10 years, made friends for life, gained a multitude of skills and had the opportunity to work with a broad range of incredible industry professionals. I am currently studying a degree in Musical Theatre at one of the UK's leading drama schools (Mountview) and have also been a member of the National Youth Music Theatre. I am certain I would not have achieved this without the experience and support I gained from being part of the White Rock Summer Youth Project. Since 2021, I have returned as an assistant on the project and hope to be part of it for many years to come."
-Nathan McDonald, participant 2010-2019 & Creative Assistant 2021-current.
Organisation: White Rock Theatre
Contact: 0343 310 0031
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