Long-Term Impacts of Youth Theatre #5: Laura

Laura (37) is an Archivist. She currently works with historic hospital records for the NHS, but has over ten years of experience working in archives at the Glasgow Citizens Theatre, the University of Glasgow, and the Glasgow Women’s Library. Before discovering her love of archives, however, Laura initially considered pursuing a career in acting. She attended classes and summer courses with Scottish Youth Theatre as a teenager, and whilst she studied history in the end, she still attributes many of the skills she uses in her job as an archivist to those youth theatre classes and courses.

“I feel doing youth theatre has made me a more empathetic person […] the ability to empathise with people, and – without sounding too odd – get inside people’s heads, understand people’s motivations, they play quite a big part in my job.”

Laura’s job as an archivist for the NHS often involves retrieving sensitive historic hospital records for family history researchers, and these records can include upsetting content. When working with these researchers, Laura has found herself drawing on the emotional intelligence and empathy which she believes she developed at youth theatre. She tries to put herself in the researcher’s shoes in order to support them, to understand their motivations for seeking out potentially upsetting records, and to help them process them.

Another major part of Laura’s job has been presenting at conferences, most notably at the Imperial War Museum in London, and for the Archives & Records Association. She credits youth theatre with giving her the confidence and storytelling ability to present well, and to stand her ground in Q&A sessions:

“Being part of youth theatre, it sort of gave me the confidence to go out and be Laura the Presenter, Laura the Confident Researcher […] To just have that confidence without appearing arrogant was a big help – and also the importance of finding a story, finding a hook, of getting people engaged with your idea and engaged with what you’re presenting […] That goes back to the very early days of doing youth theatre, where your teacher or facilitator says: ‘Right, you’ve got three minutes to make up a story connecting a banana and a car!’”

For Laura, there is a direct link between these kinds of youth theatre activity and the skills she uses at work. She believes that the “confidence-building and the ability to tell stories” which youth theatre gave her have had a great impact on the way she does her job today.

Laura describes herself as having been a “quite shy” and “quite bookish” child, whose interests differed from those of her friends at school. Her school drama teacher recommended that she try Scottish Youth Theatre classes, and Laura found there a group of likeminded friends who she felt she could be herself with.

“I met a lot of people who were into similar things. They were into theatre, they were into drama, they were into reading, they were into just talking about your imagination and making up silly games and things like that.”

Laura remembers classes at Scottish Youth Theatre as a space in which to grow her confidence, to make friends, and to work out who she was outside of the social pressures of school and her peers there. She relished the independence that travelling into Glasgow each Saturday gave her, but also the opportunities to play and be childlike when she arrived. The classes were very workshop based and involved a lot of improvisation, giving plenty of scope for the imagination and for “acting a bit like a kid”:

“I think a lot of teenagers […] wanted to be more grown up, and they wanted to be recognised as an adult, and I didn’t feel quite ready to do that. So, it was nice being involved in drama games where you could act a bit like a kid and have a bit of fun and then work on projects together.”

After a year of classes at Scottish Youth Theatre, Laura gained a place on the summer Foundation Course, which she describes as “probably one of the best summers of my life”. It was during these two focused weeks of youth theatre that Laura felt she really had the chance to “find out a bit more about who I was as a person, which is really hard to do when you’re a teenager, because you’re surrounded by your peers who you want to like you, and you sort of do that by mirroring what they’re doing, not necessarily what you want to do.”

The result was a further boost to Laura’s confidence and self-belief, and this led to her gaining a place on the following summer’s five-week Performance & Production Course. Ending with a production at what was then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), this “felt like a step up”, and gave Laura a taste of “what it would be like to be a professional actor”.

The confidence and love of acting which these youth theatre experiences gave Laura led to her pursuing an HNC in Acting & Performance. Whilst she later chose to pursue a history degree, she has still carried the skills she gained from youth theatre through into her professional and personal life as an adult:

“I would have to say that I think my life would be incredibly different if I hadn’t had the opportunity to take part in youth theatre. I don’t think I would have the confidence that I have today. I certainly wouldn’t have some of the longer-lasting friendships that I have today as well.”

In addition to the impact that youth theatre has had on the way she does her job as an archivist, Laura believes the confidence it helped her to build has also been immensely helpful to her as a parent. She remembers feeling very uncertain when she had her first child, and found the experience of entering a toddlers’ group somewhat “intimidating and anxiety-inducing”. However, she drew on her youth theatre experiences and the attitude of “I just have to go in and do it” which she developed there, and was immensely glad later that she did.

Laura also remains very close to friends she made at Scottish Youth Theatre; in particular, two of the friends she made on the summer Foundation Course are still her two closest friends today. Outside of work, she still pursues an imaginative outlet in the form of creative writing, which she attributes, too, to her time at youth theatre: “I do enjoy creative writing, and again that’s something […] that youth theatre helped flourish, because again it equips you with all those tools to think about character, how a character develops, how their story develops, how the world they inhabit develops as well.”

Despite not pursuing a career in acting, then, Laura still credits her years at Scottish Youth Theatre with much of her professional success and personal fulfillment as an adult:

“I think it is something that I think sometimes could be seen as ‘oh it’s just another club for kids to do’, but it is a lot more than that. It builds friendships, it builds confidence, it allows people to use their imaginations […] I just really enjoyed being part of youth theatre.”