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All eyes on the new century;Arts

Brian Hayward watches a youth theatre workshop on responses to the next millennium

For the past 10 days young people in the Lothians have been taking part in a youth theatre project that ends tonight with a performance at Howden Park Centre in Livingston, ambitiously entitled "D-evolution - the Easter Gathering".

The lottery-funded New Directions project was devised to encourage young people to articulate their responses to "Scotland at the Millennium". The original scheme included the youth theatres attached to the Royal Lyceum, Brunton Theatre and Dundee Rep, although the last group was forced to withdraw from the project. The vigorous West Lothian Youth Theatre are tonight's hosts.

In the first week of the project, the separate groups worked for four days in their own theatres, formulating their drama statements about Scotland and the millennium. In the second week they got together at Howden Park and introduced themselves by performing their works to one another. Then, under the co-ordination of Scott Johnson, the West Lothian Youth Theatre leader, they were "re-mixed" to begin work on the performances to be seen tonight.

Fiona Walton, assistant director and youth theatre leader at Brunton, and Steve Small, education director at the Lyceum, each recruited teams of 10 young people. At a session on the third day at the Lyceum, I went to see how the project was working out.

The Lyceum Youth Theatre had obviously decided that "Scotland" was too complicated an idea and had settled instead for "Edinburgh", where most of them live. It seems they didn't find "the Millennium" much of a turn-on either, just another tick of the clock, another page of the diary - no fools, this Lyceum Youth Theatre. So they settled for "Edinburgh, Past, Present and Future".

I watched them work on "Present". To the music of the modern anthem of the city - the soundtrack from Trainspotting - the young people walked the walk of the streets, on the beat, snapping into tableaux of city images, the executives with their watches and mobiles, the tourists with their cameras, the homeless, the drinkers and the druggies. For the "Past", they would celebrate famous men, and for the "Future", this predominantly female group would hope for some famous women.

After only three days of working together there was already an excellent atmosphere. All the creative decisions were taken by the group, by now reduced to eight. (They were comforted to learn that Brunton had gone down to six.) They solved problems by exchanging ideas and then reaching a rapid consensus, or by quickly adopting a suggestion from an individual. It was "listening and talking" of a high order, another example of drama as an instrument of personal education, rather than merely an arts activity.

Individually, they were happy to talk about the experience. Laura MacLeod from Gracemount High in Edinburgh was glad to have the opportunity to meet people with like minds and interests from other schools in the city. Neil Mackay from Boroughmuir High contrasted the creativity and collaboration with the conformity of the school play. Asked what they had given up for the eight-day project, Laura cheerfully listed parties and shopping trips. Neil, in a tone poised between regret and contentment, muttered "studying".

Royal Lyceum education department, tel: 0131 248 4838

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