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Youth theatre prepares for a new age

Test yourself: what does the phrase "out of the woods" remind you of? Time up: if your answer includes nightmares, drug addiction, bullying, child abuse, alcoholism, wife-beating, abortion and baby-sitters from hell, then you are probably 13-years-old and a member of the Scottish Youth Theatre summer festival.

By the strange alchemy of the young mind, when that phrase was given to these 40 "Sytizens", each and every one glowing with talent, hysterical with the happiness of a theatre fortnight in the Old Athenaeum theatre, they all promptly made crises out of the drama. Surely they cannot all be from dysfunctional families.

Maybe young teens care more deeply about the world's ills, or feel more vulnerable and frightened. Whatever the reason, these bright young thesps in the mass can get very morbid, albeit stylishly.

Fortunately for their audience's peace of mind, they had also written a very upbeat song, and gave it laldy for a rousing finale to their fortnight, no doubt singing it all the way home to Buckie and Dumfries, Aberdeen and Dunbar.

So ended the first and very successful SYT foundation course, now to become an SYT fixture.

Designed for the younger end (first year secondary to third year), it will become the qualifying course for entry to the regular five-week summer school which this year ends with performances of Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods.

This important change to the SYT pattern has come a year earlier than planned, following savage funding cuts. Director Mary McCluskey is defiantly positive about the timing: "I feel very happy that this is happening in our 21st year. It is not an unwanted present - it marks a rite of passage at an important time, and phases in our new structure."

The new format will be completed by the addition of two-week specialist study courses on aspects of theatre craft for performers and technicians, designed for the young people who have already participated in the foundation and summer school.

The cutbacks also mean that the summer festivals will stay in Glasgow, instead of alternating with other cities - and SYT productions will cost other centres more. Otherwise, no change. SYT projects are going forward all over Scotland, currently in the Black Isle and Ayrshire.

u Into the Woods is at the Old Athenaeum, Glasgow For six days from August 4. Phone 0141 332 2333.

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