Film star Ian Hart puts his stamp of approval on newly revealed plans for his beloved Everyman Youth Theatre, writes Laura Davis.
THE stage where Ian Hart stood as a shy 14-year-old too nervous to join in with the other young actors is no more. It was torn down along with the rest of the shabby but exhilarating old Everyman Theatre so that a new incarnation could rise from its dust.
So it’s only fitting that the organisation that taught that him the confidence he would need as an adult acting alongside Dustin Hoffman is being reinvented as well.
In ambitious plans revealed yesterday, the famous Everyman Youth Theatre, which also kickstarted the careers David Morrissey, Stephen Graham and Cathy Tyson, is being replaced by Young Everyman Playhouse.
As well as encouraging young actors, it will now provide opportunities for those who want to get involved backstage. Future generations of lighting designers, playwrights, stage managers, costumiers, directors and communications teams to all look back as fondly at YEP as Hart does at the Everyman Youth Theatre.
“I’d been hanging around outside Probe, and a lad I knew, Laurence, took me,” remembers the 47-year-old, during a break from filming Luck, a TV series about horse racing set in Los Angeles that stars Dustin Hoffman.
“I don’t think I joined in the first night. I just sat on the benches on the outside edge watching (youth theatre director) Roger Hill.
“But Ian O’Donahue and David Morrissey, who I both knew from school, were there and it was Dave who convinced me to go back again.”
He blames his “shockingly bad memory” for not being able to recall the names of plays he acted in, but nothing can block out the twin feelings of support and excitement.
“It was for me the most liberating, non judgemental, safe and inspiring place I’d ever seen,” he says.
“Roger Hill was a gift to the people of liverpool – a wonderful man.”
Some lessons he learned at the Youth Theatre he continues draw on today, in an incredibly diverse career with roles ranging from John Lennon in Backbeat, Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and the Furor in last year’s TV movie The Man Who Crossed Hitler.
“It is the only training I ever did,” says Hart.
“I learnt that you shouldn’t be afraid to be yourself, to be different.”
Last July, when the old Everyman shut its doors in a ceremony that opened with a funeral procession led by a JCB covered in black balloons and ended with the Sense of Sound choir, Hart was among the 3,000 people making a pilgrimage to Hope Street to say goodbye.
“When I heard it was to close I thought a visit was long overdue,” he explains.
“I wish I’d gotten to see the youth theatre and the back stage area but the three-hour queue to get in the bistro kept me occupied.
“The choir were, as always, brilliant and the choice of final song (So Long Farewell from The Sound of Music) was perfect – funny and sad with dark overtones.”
Work is due to begin on the new building next week and once it is completed it will include designated space for its youth theatre.
Hart is impressed by the plans for the new YEP.
“As not everybody is cut out for performance, the opportunity to learn the skills involved in theatre production from all angles is long overdue,” he says.
Not that its members will be waiting until the new Everyman is built to begin work. They already have four shows programmed in for this year starting with Intimate, a site specific piece of promenade theatre about young people’s experiences of war taking place at Camp and Furnace on Greenland Street next month. You Are Being Watched, about the prevelance of CCTV, will move through various Liverpool city centre locations, beginning at the Static Gallery, and Excuse Me, a piece focusing on asylum seekers, will be performed at the Albert Dock.
The fourth play – Illyria by Bryony Lavery, about a journalist in a wartorn country – will be shown at the Playhouse Studio.
On top of this packed performance schedule, the young people will work on help on professional productions where possible and a YEP representative is likely to sit on the Everyman and Playhouse board.
With the Young Actors, Young Communicators and Young Technicians strands up and running, work now begins on future Young Directors and Young Writers programmes as well as a dedicated company of actors aged 18 to 25 and a children’s theatre for three to 11-year-olds.
Those who prefer to watch can become a YEP member to take advantage of its discounted ticket scheme. A £30,000 Arts Council grant has helped fund the project’s starting costs, while nominal fees charged for some of the strands will enhance the theatres’ subsidies.
Matt Rutter, YEP director, says: “It’s really exciting and is quite unique in terms of its diversity,” he says.
“The theatres really want to put young people at the heart of what they do.”