Any public funds for Scottish Youth Theatre must be used to tackle inequality, says River City star

Caitlin Logan

Scottish Youth Theatre ‘prices out working-class students’, actor and director Iain Robertson has said

SCOTTISH ACTOR and director Iain Robertson, best known for his roles in Small Faces, The Debt Collector, Sea of Souls, and most recently River City, has written to the Scottish Government calling a portion of any public funds given to Scottish Youth Theatre (SYT) to be used to address inequality of access.

Following SYT’s announcement earlier this week that it would be closing its doors in July this year due to a failure to secure regular Creative Scotland funding, politicians and members of the arts sector alike have rallied around the organisation and called for the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland to take action to protect its future.

However, 36-year-old Robertson, who said he was unable to attend SYT for financial reasons but benefited from free provision at Whitefield Community Hall (now Clyde Hall) and from Toonspeak Young People’s Theatre, has called for a more considered response.

“SYT has, for over 40 years, failed to tackle the attainment gap with regards to accessibility.” Actor and director Iain Robertson

In a letter seen by CommonSpace, Robertson, who is also the founder of independent film production company Stone Scissors Paper, has suggested that 20-30 per cent of any public funds granted to SYT – be that from the Scottish Government or Creative Scotland – is ring-fenced to provide free places for participants from deprived or less advantaged backgrounds.

Writing to culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie, and Joan McAlpine MSP, Robertson stated: “I am of the view that SYT has, for over 40 years, failed to tackle the attainment gap with regards to accessibility for willing participants from deprived areas.”

Roberston stressed that he was a “huge advocate for youth theatre”, and said: “No matter what line of work participants then pursue, the impact on confidence, presentation, interpersonal skills and communications skills, is immense.

“In no way do I wish to see SYT be punished for their lack of accessibility, or have to close their doors due to a lack of funds.”

However, Robertson noted that while many of his acquaintances who had participated in SYT in the past had done so thanks to receiving bursaries or sponsorship, bursaries are “not what they once were” in the current climate of austerity. 

READ MORE: Scottish Government to ‘explore all options’ for Scottish Youth Theatre

He continued: “How can we justify providing free education in drama schools such as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland yet provide public funding to an institution that prices out working-class students?”

Robertson said he hoped that an “amicable solution” was achieved for SYT, adding: “I only hope it is one that benefits all Scottish children, and not just those whose parents have a disposable income.”

Responding to the criticisms, Scottish Youth Theatre chief executive Jacky Hardacre told CommonSpace: “SYT recognises the need to make our work accessible to children and young people of all backgrounds. We value equalities, diversity and inclusion very highly and have implemented a range of steps to improve this.”

Among these include the creation of a new artistic role with responsibility for inclusion, the absence of any participation fee for the new National Ensemble as of 2017 and the allocation of funds to help young people with travel and accommodation costs where possible.

“We offer some supported places for activities and planned to extend this during the coming year with a fundraising drive.” Jacky Hardacre, Scottish Youth Theatre 

Additionally, Hardacre said a new programme had been established for young artists to use the facilities free of charge to make their own theatre work, and that steps were taken to ensure that rehearsal space enables young people with additional needs to benefit equally from the experience.

The organisation had also planned to expand on this work through other initatives, Hardacre explained. She said: “We offer some supported places for activities and planned to extend this during the coming year with a fundraising drive to establish a bursary scheme for young people from low income backgrounds.

“We have a new partnership with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland focused on improving access for young people from BAME communities – our first joint event is next week.

“We have had conversations with potential partners in the North East to look at the grass roots access for BAME communities into youth theatre and we planned to raise money for some development work there.”

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop is expected to meet with representatives of SYT on Monday to explore options for how the Scottish Government might support the organisation to continue.  

Picture courtesy of Iain Robertson

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