A change of (theatre) seasons for the ATYP

Two young performers engage in a weekly drama class. Photo: ATYP/supplied.

A rapidly changing world has inspired the new theatrical season of the Australian Theatre For Young People, including a surprising and radical kids’ piece. By youth editor Corin Shearston.

A national creative hub with a vision for enriching the lives of young Australians through transformative theatre experiences, the Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) has been operational in Sydney for nearly 60 years. 

Planned from 1963, the ATYP was formally constituted in 1964 at the behest of Eleanor Witcombe, an esteemed writer in the worlds of radio, film and TV. Her most notable works include the children’s play Smugglers Beware (1948), the first Australian children’s play to be professionally performed in England, and the movie screenplay adaptation of Miles Franklin’s 1901 novel, My Brilliant Career (1979).

Using Witcombe’s initial inspiration while employing likeminded artists, playwrights and educators, the ATYP emerged as an esteemed production company for high quality youth and children’s theatre. 

Eleanor Witcombe (1923-2018). Photo: TV Tonight.

The involvement of aspiring young actors was encouraged from 1967 with the establishment of a workshop and mentoring programme for 10 to 15 year olds. The ATYP proceeded to remain true to its name while being passionately developed by 18 artistic directors and moving to over 20 different locations in Sydney. The company has now withstood the unpredictable global upheavals of 2020 to announce more exciting productions and workshops for 2021, with the nature of change a core theme of this year’s theatrical season. 

A production shot of Lost, appearing in a double bill with Girlstalk in 1989.
Photo: ATYP/supplied.

In sentiments shared by many contemporary practitioners of the arts, the ATYP is experiencing a “swirling mix of anxiety, excitement, uncertainty and hope” around organising their current events, but “look forward to riding the waves of change” with their audiences and participants. 

The steady focus to succeed in delivering high quality youth and children’s theatre is evident in the ATYP’s planned presentation of seven fresh productions spanning the period 30 January to 6 November this year, which began with Yve Blake’s uproarious musical Fangirls and will end with an Antarctic survival thriller titled Shack.

A preview of ATYP’s 2021 theatre season. Video: ATYP/YouTube.

Created in Queensland by The Good Room, I’ve Been Meaning To Ask You is a radical piece that will be playing Parramatta’s Riverside Theatres from 17-20 March, after making a tremendous first impact at the Brisbane Festival in 2018. Earning plaudits as a generationally convergent, question-based work that appeals to audiences of all ages, the production has achieved a broad reach while empowering an ensemble of 18 actors aged 9 to 13. 

As an original member of its conceptual trio, along with Daniel Evans and Amy Ingram, Nathan Sibthorpe is the resident director of the March season of I’ve Been Meaning To Ask You.

Sibthorpe tells the Sentinel: “The whole show is a result of the experiment.”

The premise of the work lies in guiding young actors to answer questions they’ve asked online, to an audience of (mainly) anonymous adults from around the world. It’s structured as an hour long conversation built around three key starting points: what you’ve been told, what you know to be true, and what you want to believe.

The press shot for I’ve Been Meaning To Ask You. Photo: Dylan Evans/ATYP Instagram.

Adults often leave the show with an altered perspective for the keen performing ability and bold opinions of young people. As Sibthorpe remarks: “They’re always surprised … [the young cast] have their own wisdom to offer. People are kind of taken aback by that.” 

Adults are also able to ask questions of the young people involved, who are assisted in crafting onstage responses. Contributing adults are sourced globally from countries such as the USA, UK and Russia, with a geographical breakdown for context occurring at the beginning of the show.

Sibthorpe’s directorial work is aided by an additional facilitator and a team of supporting artists from Brisbane, along with a team of Sydney locals, and a rehearsal director and an assistant director based at the ATYP.

“A very big team to support the young people,” Sibthorpe explains. 

The official trailer for I’ve Been Meaning To Ask You. Video: ATYP/YouTube.

I’ve Been Meaning To Ask You is due for an additional five interstate seasons this year, with dates across regional Queensland and various festivals. The research process for the show has already begun on meaningtoaskyou.com, which is currently hosting public questionnaires to provide question and answer content for the show.

After I’ve Been Meaning To Ask You, the next production for the ATYP will be Playlab’s quirky community drama, Lights In The Park, which will be staged in mid-April. 

Visit atyp.com.au to discover a wealth of theatrical experience opportunities for 2021, with contact, ticketing, and registration details for shows and workshops. You can also follow the ATYP on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube