Leigh Wolmarans shares how his passion for Shakespeare has influenced his work with young people and how Silhouette Youth Theatre has become involved with the RSC
Leigh Wolmarans is the CEO and Artistic Director of our Partner Theatre, Silhouette Youth Theatre. He first came to the RSC as a headteacher and has continued to work with us as a teacher and director.
Nearly ten years after walking into an RSC workshop for the first time, I sat in Stratford-upon-Avon watching our young people from Silhouette Youth Theatre take part in Next Generation Backstage. I heard them speak so passionately about the relevance of Shakespeare and the power of his stories.
A few months earlier, at the Connected Symposium for Associate Schools and Partner Theatres, I was honoured and privileged to hear our young people on the Youth Advisory Board stand up and speak passionately to a whole auditorium about making positive changes in the arts around the social issues of mental health and race.
I have watched them run sessions with teachers, speak about how Shakespeare has changed their lives and I have watched them perform the words like they were written specifically for them. All of this started with a little seed that was planted many years ago by a man that was very passionate about the same thing.
So how do we continue this work? How do we start to plant and grow our own seeds? This all begins with our young people and their role as ambassadors and leaders. Silhouette Youth Theatre have three young people on the Youth Advisory Board who directly drive some of the work the RSC does and I know their voices are being listened to because I see their fingerprints on some of the work that is coming out to us.
We also have three young people who are in the Next Generation Act company and I have seen them perform live on stage and seen how audiences responded to their exceptional performances. I have seen our young people create original musical compositions using Shakespeare as a springboard and I have seen others engage due to the fact that they are listening to music that is accessible to them.
Our Silhouette Youth Theatre ambassadors have had training with the RSC but have also trained themselves and have created a clear expectation of what it means to lead the work we do. They have performed in different venues, organised tours and are currently working on a piece that will be taken to local schools. We have built this structure over many years and it has become part of our DNA and culture and anyone that joins Silhouette Youth Theatre knows that we have a passion for Shakespeare.
The fact that we take this passion into over 30 schools in our community and work with thousands of young people and hundreds of teachers means that we are cultivating this love in others. This year we have started working with three passionate local secondary schools to see how we can bring drama and English departments together to celebrate this work and to get young people engaging with stories that are as relevant today as they ever were.
Our relationship with Intermission Youth Theatre has challenged our views and options and has created a powerful partnership with young people and practitioners that think like us.
And this is by no means the end of the work that Silhouette Youth Theatre will do. One day someone will stand in a session run by our young people and decide to take the first step. They will go back to where they work and they will say that they saw a passionate ambassador who has sparked something in them. They will then make a change to the work they do and others will then join the revolution!