The idea was simple. Could a group of Youthreach students develop a new, theatrical production and run it for a week in a professional theatre in Dublin? Students, most of whom had never set foot in a theatre before, had never seen a play before or even attended a drama class.
It all began late 2012 when The New Theatre artistic director, Anthony Fox, generously agreed to allow us use of the theatre or its rehearsal space so students could work in a real life venue. The call then went out to students at Ballyfermot Youthreach for a taster course: a six week series of drama workshops with some free plays thrown in to see what they thought. No commitment required beyond the six weeks, but if they decided to stay after that they were in for the long haul. It was a gamble but a few students were mildly curious. Two years later and the result is The Unknown Theatre whose inaugural production Streets and Stories premiered at the New Theatre in July 2014 to a rapturous response.
In Streets and Stories three girls plan a night out but secrets start to emerge. At home, a single mother struggles to take care of her child alone. On the streets a homeless girl remembers home while another remembers a lost friend. Whether it’s preparing for interviews, speaking West Dublin, finding the best way to pick up girls or finding the story in the first place, Streets and Stories proved to be a hilarious, inventive and deeply moving exploration of the laughter and tears behind stories from the streets. Performed by students Aisling Hickey, John McCarthy, Terrie Gray, Demi O’Reilly, Zoe Kelly, Amy O’Driscoll, Shane Finn and Samantha Hanley, already there have been requests to bring Streets and Stories back for a second run and to venues outside Dublin.
What makes The Unknown Theatre unique is that it’s built around developing the natural talents of the student. Students don’t have to perform until they’re ready to. Throughout, students lead the way, take you where they want to go, show you who they are while discovering for themselves that their own talents are capable of creating something remarkable and capable of standing on any stage.
Two years ago a group of the students from Ballyfermot Youthreach took a step out of their comfort zone and into the unknown. Two years on and they’ve shown that they’re capable of performing at the highest level. Over the next year The Unknown Theatre hopes to develop its next show and you never know, we might get to come to a venue near you.