Life's a stage for talented stars of the future at the Kings
Standing in front of 1,600 people and performing in one of the country's oldest and grandest theatres is a privileged opportunity.
But for those youngsters who dream of a career on the stage, joining the Kings Youth Theatre can offer just that.
It’s only been running for six years, but has gone from strength to strength.
Many young people will spend their Saturdays sat at home playing computer games or watching television.
But those who love to perform have a different view.
You’re more likely to find them inside the Kings in Southsea, letting out all their emotions and discovering who they are through the wonder of drama.
It’s a place that enables young people to develop a whole range of skills that can benefit them more and more as they grow up.
The Kings Youth Theatre has five groups, ranging from the age of four up to 18 and members can join up without any experience.
Meanwhile, those who have proven themselves can apply for Leading Lights - a specialist group for those aged 14 and over who are invited to audition and who then act as mentors for the younger students.
Jo Bennington runs the Kings Youth Theatre and has done since it was set up in April 2010.
She has been working at the theatre for the past nine years in different roles.
But she was approached and asked if she would be interested in running a theatre group for children.
She grabbed the opportunity with both hands - and hasn’t looked back.
‘They wanted to expand the theatre’s reach into education and into the community and start to welcome in and involve the next generation of theatre-goers by making sure that we educated them from an early age,’ she says.
‘Recently we have had a sudden surge of interest. September is a nice time because we get a lot of interest from people - some of whom stay and some don’t.
‘It’s lovely to see the amount of young people who are still getting involved with the performing arts. It’s quite encouraging.
‘Every potential new member gets a free taster session to come along and see if they enjoy what we get up to and if they feel comfortable in the group.’
And even the youngest group can still benefit a great deal from becoming a member.
‘The word play comes from the fact that it was considered you play a game on stage, you play a character and you had fun with that and with the words you were given,’ Jo adds.
‘It comes from the word meaning fun.
‘So with the younger ones it’s about exploring themselves through character play as their vocabulary isn’t too strong at that age.
‘It’s building their own personal development as well as their self-esteem and their confidence. At that age it’s about being confident in yourself.’
Confidence is one of the biggest differences seen in students at the theatre, Jo says.
‘There is so much out there in the world that will dent the confidence of a young person. More and more people are being affected by accepted norms.
‘But we don’t care about any of that. We care about what’s inside you. We want to meet you and get to know you.
‘I’ve still got two members with me who have been with me since day one.
‘It’s self-esteem at the end of the day. A lot of them feel more comfortable in themselves. They can express themselves better and argue their point better and voice their opinion clearer because they have the confidence to do that.
‘I value everything that a child says to me, whether it’s utter rubbish or not. Every word has value.’
So how seriously do the students at the group take their acting?
Jo says: ‘A lot of them want to make it on the stage in the theatre one day - mostly performing, but I can see a few of them teaching. They want to make it in the industry.
‘Some of them come because they enjoy it as a hobby and they just want to spend more time doing it.
‘It’s a good way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday.
‘It’s good for their social development and their communication skills. They learn how to work as part of a team and how to communicate with each other.’
The students take part in one main performance each year which happens in July. This year they took on a musical version of Peter Pan.
It gives them the amazing opportunity to perform to an audience on the Kings Theatre stage.
‘We do try to give them performance opportunities throughout the year, not just at the Kings,’ Jo adds.
‘The performance for these guys is the main drive and motivation for anything.
‘They can see the skills that they have learnt coming to fruition.
‘I can’t stress how important this is to offer these guys a chance to perform on the Kings Theatre stage. It’s a unique selling point.
‘The other theatres are doing a fantastic job and I have a huge amount of respect for people who take on this job.
‘But to be able to give these kids the opportunity to perform on a professional stage inside a respected venue and to be able to put that on their CVs is an incredible opportunity for them.’
For the students who make it into the Leading Lights group, this is the next stage in their acting career. Many of them will hope to apply to some of the most prestigious acting schools in the country.
‘It’s important for them,’ Jo says.
‘It’s recognition and acknowledgement that they do have something. Every mum and dad loves their son or daughter and will do everything in their power to encourage them.
‘But it’s important to have that talent recognised by someone outside of their direct family saying that they can do this and they have a talent and they can improve on it.
‘These guys are the ones that go on to study performing arts at a stage school.’
And for Jo, teaching youngsters how to potentially become the stars of the future is something she loves.
‘It’s a genuine joy,’ she says.
‘Sometimes I refer to them as my kids and they refer to me as their drama mum. We try to create a family feeling here because for some of them it’s become a second family.
‘I love to watch these kids grow up and develop and blossom and realise their true potential. I absolutely love my job.’
MEET THE MEMBERS
Member for four years
‘My friend got me involved. I had always wanted to do an outside club that would help me build my confidence. As soon as I came here, I fell in love with it.
‘Everybody is so kind. Since I have been here I’ve never had an argument with anyone. No one has said a bad word about me.
‘Acting with friends is amazing as well. Jo, who runs the group, said she has seen a confidence boost. I have gained so many other skills as well. I am more involved in team work.
‘Before I was shy and didn’t want to get involved much or be the centre of attention.
‘For now I see it as a hobby, but I would like to take it further. I will see where life takes me.’
Member for six months
‘I started at school doing normal drama and started to really get into it, so my mum suggested drama groups. I’ve loved it ever since. It’s so much fun.
‘My confidence has grown a lot - most of my teachers have said that since I have started coming here.
‘Being on stage is just magical. I used to get nervous but now it’s just the anticipation of it and I know I have fun doing it.’
Member for five years
‘I have always enjoyed drama and the feeling of performance. I felt that I needed to go somewhere. So I suggested that I started going to a drama group and I found myself here.
‘Over time I have made lots of friends and it made me much more socially active.
‘It’s given me the confidence that I have needed in life.
‘I used to stutter. But I have become used to being in front of an audience and I can speak out a lot more.
‘If it came to it I would definitely go forward with an acting career. Performing is liberating.
‘It gets all my problems out of my head and gives me a place to be.’
WHEN DOES THE KINGS YOUTH THEATRE RUN?
Act 1 Beginners (4-7yrs) Tuesday 4:15pm - 5:15pm (Mountbatten Centre)
Theatre Bugs (7-10yrs) Saturday 10am -12pm
Bright Stars (10-13yrs) Saturday 12:30pm - 2:30pm
Spotlights (13-17yrs) Saturday 3pm - 5pm
Leading Lights (14+) Thursday 6pm-8pm – by audition and invitation only.
For more information, go to http://kingsportsmouth.co.uk/get-on-stage/kings-youth-theatre/