Long-Term Impacts of Youth Theatre #4: Ian

Ian (38) is a Train Conductor who has been working on the Scottish railway for 13 years. His job varies hour-to-hour and day-to-day, but is primarily a people-facing role as he patrols trains, interacts with passengers, and resolves travel problems. His job therefore demands high adaptability and strong people skills, both of which he attributes to his years of youth theatre. From his early teens to his mid-20s, Ian attended Perth Youth Theatre, and eventually spent one year as a Trainee Drama Worker leading sessions and Assistant Directing a show there.

“Reacting to different situations, reading a room, assessing situations quickly and reacting to them accordingly, that’s all skills that are learned and developed in a youth theatre environment.”

Ian describes his job principally as “a performance every day”, in which he has to respond to a variety of situations all the time, and in which nothing is predictable. The nature of his job changes depending on the time of day and the route; he could be dealing with commuters one hour, day-tripping families another hour, and intoxicated clubgoers the next. Due to the variety of activities that he experienced at youth theatre, however, Ian has found that he thrives in this environment and says that it’s the “total variety” that “keeps me going”. He adds that he often draws especially on his improvisation skills when dealing with difficult passengers or unanticipated problems:

“Having to be quick, having to have a response quickly, that comes up a lot, particularly late at night when […] there can be quite a lot of heated environments and a lot of tension. Being able to come away with a quick one-liner, a quick response to somebody can totally diffuse and change a situation within a second, and definitely having experience of having to do that in improv classes and all the rest of it has stood me in good stead for coping with those situations.”

For Ian, participating in youth theatre throughout his teenage years changed his idea of where his life could go, and helped him to realise that he could choose to pursue other skills and interests outside of school and academia. Whilst he did well at school, he remembers realising that he didn’t have to be “stuck in the finish-school-go-to-uni-get-a-job kind of mentality”, and that youth theatre “opened up new possibilities” for the kind of life he wanted to live and the kind of work he wanted to do.

Before starting youth theatre, Ian recalls being a “very introverted” child, with few friends and little connection to those his own age. He felt that he “didn’t really fit in anywhere at school” and “just kind of muddled along”. When he joined Perth Youth Theatre, however, he found a “core group” of friends, and describes connecting to a “positive energy” from the very beginning. He had never found this anywhere else before, and attributes it largely to the “safe space” which the leaders created and encouraged:

“Obviously the first few weeks were a bit intimidating and a bit overwhelming at times, but once you kind of realised that it was a safe space – because nothing you do there is wrong, everything is celebrated and embraced and worked with – once you realise that, it opens you up to so much possibility and so much opportunity to express yourself in a way that you wouldn’t do anywhere else, for fear of being wrong or being judged.”

Ian emphasises the importance of having this “space to express yourself while you’re learning who you are”, and credits his youth theatre leaders with providing that space. He remembers receiving “constant positive reinforcement” from them, and becoming more confident as a result – not only at youth theatre, but also at home and at school. He remembers youth theatre as a space which broke down barriers between typical teenage ingroups, which encouraged everyone to work out who they really were, and which emboldened them to be themselves.

Ian recalls benefitting, too, from the sheer variety of activities which Perth Youth Theatre offered during his time there. The range of “stage-fighting nights, scriptwriting nights, improv nights, movement nights” allowed him to develop a range of skills in addition to rehearsing for shows. The most important outcome of this for Ian was the realisation that he thrived on variety – a priority which he has carried through into his professional life as an adult:

“I was a jack of all trades and a master of none, but I enjoyed that […] and that’s what’s stood me in good stead for, you know, going forward into other both theatrical and non-theatrical things I went into in the future. Being able to dip my toe into all the different things that we did, and draw on those experiences, it was of huge benefit to me not just in theatrical life but in normal life as well.”

Since leaving Perth Youth Theatre, Ian has continued to be involved with various amateur dramatic companies in Perth and across Fife, and one of the highlights of his amateur dramatic career has been playing the part of Tobias Ragg in a production of Sweeney Todd. His “core group” of friends from youth theatre remain his core group of friends to this day, and he even met his wife through an amateur musical theatre group. He therefore credits youth theatre and later theatrical opportunities to which it led him with a great deal of his personal happiness and fulfilment, as well as with the professional skills it has given him.

In addition to these skills and experiences, Ian feels strongly that his time at Perth Youth Theatre instilled in him a belief that it is impossible to make accurate assumptions about others based merely on appearance, a first impression, or brief interaction. He has carried this conviction through both his professional and personal life:

“All the people that go to youth theatre […] it was a whole range of people, from all different backgrounds, all different experiences, all different appearances, all different physicalities, everything – and everyone would surprise you, week in and week out, with things they would do, things they would say, things you wouldn’t necessarily expect at first glance from somebody. That really opens your eyes to the fact that you can’t judge a book by its cover, you don’t know what’s underneath, you don’t know what somebody’s capable of until they show you.”