A few of Luke’s favourite things

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Artistic Director & CEO – Canberra Youth Theatre, Luke Rogers. Photo: Kurt Sneddon.

THEATRE director Luke Rogers has been busy doing his favourite thing since last we spoke to him – sorting through promising scripts. 

This time last year, he was embarking optimistically on a 2020 season but nobody suspected that his second year as artistic director of Canberra Youth Theatre was going to be so fraught. 

It wasn’t all bad news, because by October 2020 the company had negotiated a deal with the Canberra Theatre that saw them on stage, not in the Courtyard Studio but in the more capacious Playhouse, with a sophisticated production of “Normal” by Katie Pollock, performed by four actors aged 18-25.

It was sweet relief to Rogers, who is keen to raise the status of the CYT into a performance company worthy of recognition alongside adult companies.

“I believe it was the first play on the main stage since lockdown, a wind of opportunity that came out of the chill,” he says. 

“How lucky we were.

“COVID-19 has brought everyone closer together as the company did Zoom sessions and we banded together to weather the storm.”

While his planned “big fat” first program was thrown into chaos by covid, it gave him a chance to step back. It’s now officially his third year with the company, but because 2019 was planned by his predecessor Katie Cawthorne and last year was curtailed, this will be his first full planned year.

But it’s not a re-run of 2020.

Rogers is famous for his love of a good script and, reassessing what was needed, he’s found a couple of impressive new ones, leaving two 2020 choices behind. 

“Little Girls Alone in the Woods”. Photo: Adam McGrath, Hcreations.

At the Courtyard Studio in May, a large ensemble cast of actors aged 14-17 will perform “Little Girls Alone in the Woods” by Melbourne playwright Morgan Rose, in which young people are seen leaving security and safety for a world where they can be unruly, extreme and creative. The play is a modern adaptation of Euripides’ tragedy “The Bacchae”, that puts a feminist lens on the Greek legend of Dionysus. Auditions are in February.

“It’s about young people challenging the establishment, there is a lot of anarchy and rebellion and a sense of urgency to be heard,” Rogers says.

CYT’s relationship with The Street Theatre will continue as planned last year, when they co-present “I’ve Been Meaning to Ask You”, originally created by Brisbane company The Good Room. That’s a one-hour tell-all, where up to 20 nine-to-13-year-olds from Canberra say exactly what they’re thinking – and, Rogers says, it will be different each day. Auditions open in May.

Then in October, also at the Courtyard Studio, he’ll direct a play with a very long title.

“Two Twenty Somethings Decide Never To Be Stressed About Anything Ever Again. Ever.” written by Michael Costi is a “much-needed comedy” which looks at the stresses in millennial life. Set in a flat filled with cool friends, indoor plants and home-brewed kombucha, it will be performed by emerging professional actors aged 18-25. Auditions are in July.

“It’s rare to find works that really encapsulate the 20-plus group,” Rogers says.

Productions aside, Canberra Youth Theatre is on track with workshops at Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres, in schools and at Belconnen Arts Centre for all school years, as well as for teachers.

There will also be masterclasses, the Young Playwrights Program for 16-25-year-olds, working with Canberra-raised professional playwright, Mary Rachel Brown and the Emerge Company, a new professional development program for young theatre makers, not just actors.

The resident artists’ program for early career theatre makers carries over from 2020 with artists Rebecca Duke, Claire Holland and Holly Johnson, but applications for 2021 residents are open.

An innovation for 2020 is a $16,000 playwriting commission grant for an emerging playwright or writing team to create a new full-length work that brings young voices and stories to the stage.

In spite of all these ventures, Rogers reiterates his belief, expressed to us last year, that “we are not a drama academy but a theatre company that advocates for youth and strives for artistic excellence”.

Canberra Youth Theatre 2021 season at a glance:

“Little Girls Alone in the Woods” by Morgan Rose, at the Courtyard Studio, May 20-22. Bookings canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.

“I’ve Been Meaning to Ask You”, The Street Theatre, July 9-10. thestreet.org.au or 6247 1223.

“Two Twenty Somethings Decide Never To Be Stressed About Anything Ever Again. Ever.”, Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre, October 20-23. Bookings canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.

Inquiries about classes, residences and playwriting to canberrayouththeatre.com.au or 6248 5057.

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