Canberra Youth Theatre incubates the theatre greats of the future

Genevieve Jacobs 26 February 2021
Holly Johnson, Rebecca Duke and Claire Holland

Holly Johnson, Rebecca Duke and Claire Holland are the 2020 Canberra Youth Theatre resident artists. Photo: Supplied.

Carving out a career in the performing arts is no easy call, especially in the time of COVID-19. So where does a young playwright, director or artist begin?

The Canberra Youth Theatre’s artist-in-residency program is a genuinely unique opportunity for emerging theatre-makers. The year-long incubator for early-career artists is a rare opportunity to commit for the long term and grow – and fail, if necessary – as an artist.

Canberra Youth Theatre CEO and artistic director Luke Rogers says that’s been even more challenging than usual for this year’s crop of resident artists – Rebecca Duke, Claire Holland and Holly Johnson – who have battled lockdowns, isolation and arts closures throughout their residency.

Rebecca is an emerging playwright, Holly a director and Claire a theatre maker.

Rebecca graduated just two years ago from high school and says the residency has been an invaluable and rare opportunity to work over a longer-term.

“The residency means that you committed for a whole year. You showed up when you were supposed to, you worked hard and you produced something meaningful while working with respected industry figures,” she says.

“As a young artist, it’s hard to have something substantial on a theatre resume, and this creates real trust.”

Rebecca says the residency has also given her room to fail and to move beyond the constraints of her own experience to explore wider themes in her work.

The three resident artists have collaborated on a work called ‘Everything Real in a Make-believe World’, written by Rebecca, directed by Holly and devised by Claire.

Holly says it would have been a mountain to climb on their own.

“There are so many risks,” she explains, “from the time it takes to the finances and resources involved in staging a new work.”

“I haven’t had formal directing education, but with Luke mentoring me, there’s an opportunity to be completely supported through the process.”

A law graduate from ANU, Holly says that the residency program is effectively a year’s headstart on professional theatre practice. For her, the year has included the chance to run a theatre workshop at the National Portrait Gallery and to build confidence in her own ideas.

“It’s made me feel more confident and clearer about my reasons for working in the theatre,” she says. “It reinforces that you are an artist and that your ideas are worth hearing.”

Claire is also an advocate of the collaborative process. Her own practice, as someone who devises theatre, centres on developing ideas through collective workshops. The residency has built her confidence and self-belief.

A Politics, Philosophy and Economics student at the ANU, she’s fervently hoping for a future in the theatre while being aware that it’s a tough call. The Canberra Youth Theatre, and Luke’s mentoring, has given her a clearer sense of what that path might be.

“I have more trust in myself; I’m more assertive about my ideas,” she says. “Luke is good at understanding characters and what we need to develop to be artists in an industry that is hard to survive in. This year has helped me find my own voice and speak.”

The residency artists are embedded in the life of the company and participate in a program of creative developments, performances and individual projects. They’ll work together on a major piece of work and grow their individual skills throughout the year.

The current residency artists are about to complete their term and applications close for the next group on 1 March. You can find more about the program and guidelines here.


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