Richard Burton Youth Company: A flagship youth theatre

Wyn Richards
Friday, March 1, 2024

In this new segment focusing on outstanding educational schemes from different theatre venues across the UK, Wyn Richards speaks to the team at Richard Burton Youth Company in Wales

Kirsten McTernan

As Wales' national conservatoire, the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) offers training to more than 800 actors, musicians, designers, technicians and arts managers, attracting the best international creative talent.

Alongside an array of Performing and Production Arts BA and MA courses, ‘Young RWCMD’ (formerly known as the ‘Young Actors Studio’) hosts various weekend activities that allow young people of all ages to explore various strands of music and drama, including acting and production arts (technical theatre, stage management and design). Its drama programme supports young people from the ages of 7 – 20.

A focus in Wales

The junior actors (ages 7 – 11) meet each Sunday, during term time, for one and a half hours. Working in small groups, through various creative drama activities – in acting, singing and backstage areas – the programme develops the young people's confidence, communications skills, and relationships with each other.

For two and a half hours each Sunday during term time, the senior actors (ages 11 – 16) participate in performance-based workshops that build confidence and creativity, which some of the young people will have established through their participation in the junior actors. As well as an introduction to theatre practitioners, acting techniques, and devising, young people are made aware of the various roles available within a theatre company, with emphasis also placed on the work that happens ‘backstage.’ With much of school-based drama focused on work in front of the footlights, an insight into technical and design areas is an excellent opportunity for those who may wish to pursue a career in production arts.

The Advanced Actors (ages 16+) spend three hours each Sunday during term time participating in performance-based workshops, which also begin to provide an insight into actor training at RWCMD. The workshops range from improvisation to acting for screen, drama theory to stage combat. Participants are also introduced to Performing and Productions Arts career pathways, including those within backstage areas, devising theatre, and working within a theatre company. The older students within this age group follow a similar programme, with sessions befitting their age.

The Richard Burton Youth Company

At the top end of Young RWCMD sits the Richard Burton Youth Company (RBYC), the new flagship youth theatre and year-long training programme for aspiring young 17 – 20-year-old creatives. The small, talented and passionate company are selected by audition, and the college's generous bursary scheme embraces inclusivity so that no young person is excluded from participating.

To support the current performing arts industry, a three-strand suite of courses was introduced in 2018 – Acting, Musical Theatre, and Theatre Making – a means to support the broadening industry as well as the diversity and interests of the young people involved.

As well as RWCMD tutors, the courses are led by industry experts as Michael Waters, RBYC's Director, points out: ‘Our staff are all professionals working in the industry, individuals who bring current, relevant skills and experience into the rehearsal room. Many of them offer multiple areas of expertise such as Welsh actor Matthew Bulgo – an actor and writer. Another actor, Francois Pandolfo, is also a theatre maker and co-founder of new Cardiff based theatre company, Difficult Stage.’

Bringing students together

Following skills workshops and creative projects, the scheme provides performance opportunities for young people, all the more exciting as they are staged at the Royal Welsh College itself. The Acting strand, for example, sees the students presenting a public showcase of work at the end of their first term; the Musical Theatre and Theatre Making students join the students here. The second term revolves around a studio based contemporary theatre production, with the third and final term revolving around a Shakespeare project. The Musical Theatre students' course culminates in a cabaret.

After three years with Young Actors Studio, Gower College Swansea student Rebecca Lewis from Carmarthenshire, is one of the 12 young actors currently part of RBYC. ‘I really enjoy our weekly skills classes in movement, improvisation and text,’ she says. ‘I particularly enjoy improvisation as, as an actor, I feel it has helped me make bold decisions and be free of self-criticism. I love that we get to work with tutors who are currently in the industry, and are experts in their field. We have great opportunities to perform in RWCMD's fantastic theatre facilities.’

With many of the participants aspiring to progress onto Performing Arts courses, RWCMD offers valuable opportunities that take young people closer towards fulfilling their dreams.