Going Solo: National Youth Theatre school auditions

Josie Clark
Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Josie Clark's students had enormous success in auditions for this year's cohort of the National Youth Theatre, she explains why she's an advocate, and how to support students through the process

 The NYT REP Company's 2019 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Criterion Theatre
The NYT REP Company's 2019 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Criterion Theatre


I've always admired the National Youth Theatre's work in providing people aged 14-25 with the life-changing experience of working with professionals within the performing arts industry, and offering them the platform to have a voice among an inclusive and diverse company of talented individuals by performing in groundbreaking productions. The company boasts impressive alumni including Dame Helen Mirren, Colin Firth and Sir Daniel Day-Lewis.

The company hosts national auditions for students at theatres, arts venues, and community settings across the UK, and this year they've also piloted digital auditions, where students can submit a five-minute video as an application. However, only recently did I discover that alongside these options, they also offer the opportunity for both state and private schools to host auditions within their own drama spaces.

Working within a state-funded academy in which figures for disadvantaged students are in the 60–80th percentile nationally, I vehemently believe in the power of the arts to make a difference to all young people and to expose them to arts practices and opportunities they would never normally be aware of or have access to. Discovering that we could bring NYT auditions to our school was an artistic epiphany that I had to pursue.

In-school auditions

Undertaking NYT auditions within your own school environment has significant benefits as our students discovered (prior to the national lockdown). The audition consists of performing a monologue, poem or retelling of a story up to two minutes in length; or participating in backstage interviews to become part of the design team. Facilitating these auditions within our own academy prior to the audition day allowed me to run weekly extra-curricular rehearsals with our students, who had all selected the acting pathway. I was able to advise and facilitate the selection of texts, provide focused feedback on the staging of their work, encourage them to explore alternative interpretations of their speeches and instil a sense of confidence, in a familiar space they knew and associated with personal and artistic success.

The process of organising the day was seamless, with an NYT Marketing Manager assisting every step of the way with the practical logistics of organising and implementing an audition schedule. A minimum of fifteen students were expected to participate, and pre-registration is required as audition results are sent directly to those involved. Audition fees are slightly reduced compared to those at a public venue, and bursaries are available for eligible students.

What's involved

On the day of auditions, any nerves felt by our students immediately dissipated with the approachable and positive demeanour of a NYT Associate Ambassador. This experienced director led our cohort of twelve through a three-hour dynamic ensemble workshop, with a real emphasis on students being generous and playful within their collaborative interactions as they engaged in a series of creative challenges. Taking artistic risks within their own school space instantly made our participants feel at ease: ‘I feel so blessed,’ Tyrese (16) commented, ‘being able to go through this process within an environment I would call my second home and with people who I would call my family.’

During the afternoon, students were allocated a ten-minute individual audition slot in which they performed their speeches and undertook one-to-one interviews. Every student reinterpreted their monologue in response to focused direction, to gauge how receptive they were. An authentic interest was shown in each student's artistic endeavours but also in their hobbies and skills beyond the arts, to get a clearer picture of the whole person and their compatibility with the values and beliefs held by NYT.

The wait for results day was a heady mix of excitement and nerves. When news arrived in mid-May that four of our twelve students had been accepted into the company, the youngest being only 14, there was collective euphoria at such success in our first year. Those offered a place will undertake an access course, delivered remotely this year, before becoming members of NYT, entitling them to audition for productions and casting opportunities across the UK. This experience provided all students who auditioned with invaluable insight into the professional processes of the performing arts industry. I would strongly recommend it.