Anyone who knows anything about theatre is likely to have heard of ATC Theatre Company. Despite turning 30 this year they didn’t come to mass public attention until 2007, when they produced the critically acclaimed The Brothers Size, written by the award winning playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. They then revived the show in 2008 which lead to McCraney picking up the Evening Standard Award for most promising playwright and the show receiving an Olivier nomination. Also in 2008 was their equally celebrated production of Gone Too Far!, by the then first time, writer Bola Agbaje. The play was also nominated for an Olivier (in the same category as The Brothers Size) and took home the title of Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre. Both productions were directed by ATC’s Artistic Director Bijan Sheibani, who has been seen by many as the visionary behind the company’s recent success. But ATC are not just makers of award winning theatre and are currently running a series of workshops aimed at getting young people involved in theatre. Karla Williams recently sat down with the company’s Event’s Manager Kendall O’Neill and two of the workshops alumni, Darren Douglas aged 24 and Sarah Baiden aged 17, to find out more about ACT@ATC.
First of all Kendall, why did you set up ACT@ATC?
Kendall: ATC moved to the Tab Centre on the border of Hackney and Tower Hamlets in September 2008, and since this time we’ve worked with local partners including Shoreditch Trust, Eastside Educational Trust and the Learning Trust to develop our work with young people in the area. ACT@ATC was set-up last summer as part of ATC’s events and participation programme Spin Off to provide theatre workshops and courses for local young people, giving them the opportunity to develop lifelong skills and work with professional theatre artists.
And what are you hoping to achieve from this course?
Kendall: The aim of the course is that young people leave with new skills, new experience, new friends and the knowledge that ATC and Shoreditch Trust are on their door step and want them to come back for the next event.
Why did the two of you get involved?
Darren: Mainly on the strength of the previous productions that Bijan has directed such as Gone Too Far! and The Brothers Size. I thought they were a really good theatre company and my friend who was in Gone Too Far! advised me to also take part.
Sarah: It was the summer and I wanted to occupy myself in a creative way. I was at the Arcola when I saw ATC at a fair and my friend dragged me to the stall to sign up. I knew that ATC had produced a play that was really good so the Spin Off would be a good opportunity to do something and not be bored at home.
So you had heard of ATC before hand?
Sarah: I’d only heard of them a bit. I thought they were some big kinda company because I didn’t know where they actually were; until I realised they were round the corner from me.
How did you find the experience working with ATC?
Darren: I found it really good; I got to meet new people and I also got to learn new games and activities. I was directed in ways that I haven’t been directed before and it was just a good two weeks of fun! And we got to do a small production as well.
Sarah: They were actually amazing because they are there to help and support young people. The way they worked they didn’t kind of intimate us or make us feel lower than them…but they were really understanding and it was really, really fun.
You sound like you really enjoyed the experience. Has the course helped you with regards to having careers in theatre?
Darren: It was good to say that I’ve been a part of an ATC production and it was also good to meet Bijan and actually get to work with him….At the time of doing the course I was also doing another production and it helped me in different ways with developing that character. It also helped getting an outsiders point of view, because I was doing the production outside of ATC, so when I did go to them with questions…they were really glad to help me.
Sarah: It’s made me realise now that I really want to do a lot of writing and really further my acting. I’m already with the national youth theatre but just working with ATC and knowing you can make you own theatre and put it on makes me want to do it more. I’ll now be doing creative writing at Uni so it helped structure my career path I guess.
So Kendall, are you hoping for ACT@ATC to become a regular feature?
Kendall: Yes, we want to continue to provide opportunities for local young people and give them access to a local, professional theatre company.
My last questions then is would you recommend the course to other young people?
Darren: Oh yeah definitely; this is definitely a good course for young people to get involved in! There are also lots of other opportunities, for example a writers group is staring up and through me attending the course at ATC I got to be involved in this course as well….So I would definitely recommend it.
ACT@ATC is open again during the February half term and is current seeking applicants. To find out more about ACT@ATC please visit the website www.atctheatre.com. Or you can contact the ATC Office on 020 7033 7360.
Words by Karla Williams