BYMT Gala: Celebrating 20 years onstage

Sarah Kirkup
Wednesday, July 10, 2024

British Youth Music Theatre hosts interactive workshops and starry gala at The Other Palace featuring guest performers and young singers

BYMT Young Company singing 'Sunrise' from Angry Salmon (Images credit: Greta Zabulyte)
BYMT Young Company singing 'Sunrise' from Angry Salmon (Images credit: Greta Zabulyte)

Leading performers, creatives and practitioners from the world of new Musical Theatre gathered at The Other Palace on Monday 8 July to celebrate the 20th anniversary of British Youth Music Theatre (BYMT). Originally called Youth Music Theatre, BYMT has, since 2004, provided training focused on new writing, commissioning 150 original musicals to date and working with more than 16,000 young people.

Many of the performers at the Lewis Cornay-hosted evening event, including award-winning choreographer Christopher Tendai and Grace Mouat, currently starring in Mean Girls at the Savoy Theatre (and, as announced on the night, BYMT’s new Patron), publicly thanked BYMT for giving them life-changing creative opportunities when they were growing up. Book writer Martha Geelan, whose pop-rock comedy musical Babies with composer/lyricists Jack Godfrey is now running at the same venue until 14 July, credited BYMT for taking a punt on their fledgling musical with its New Music Theatre Award in 2021; getting to develop the show with BYMT’s young performers, who are the same age as the characters in the show, was, said Geelan, ‘a rare opportunity’ that both she and Godfrey were hugely grateful for.

Grace Mouat, BYMT’s new Patron, singing 'Any Day Now' from Angry Salmon

Reflecting BYMT’s mission to develop theatre skills with 11- to 21-year-olds from all backgrounds through making original work, the day kicked off with a convention, ‘Careers in New Music Theatre’, divided into a morning and afternoon session; each session comprised a Q&A panel with industry professionals and an interactive, improvised creation of a new musical. The afternoon session, which I attended, saw a lively panel discussion with Sally Ann Gritton, Principal of Mountview, Bobbie Chatt, agent and casting associate, Verity Naughton, children’s casting director for TV, film and theatre, and Elaine Grant, a creative arts consultant.

All the panellists were united in their experience of initially wanting to perform onstage but gradually recognising that other paths within the industry could be just as fulfilling. Said Chatt, who now teaches at Urdang: ‘When you’re no longer passionate about what you do, you have to ask yourself why you’re still doing it. It’s OK to change the plan.’

Martha Geelan and Jack Godfrey, describing the genesis of their hit show Babies, and how it began as a BYMT production – the duo then went on to perform a song from the show

Many of the young people in attendance wanted advice on the next step in their training – actor-muso courses vs straight MT training, A Levels vs BTECs, and the secret to giving a good audition. All the panellists agreed that ‘doing what you’re good at and what you love’ should be the priority, but that going above and beyond learning MT skills – i.e. learning musical instruments, and being curious about other activities beyond Musical Theatre – will help you to stand out and increase your options. Naughton also emphasised the need to be prepared for auditions – ‘Read the email!’ she said – while Gritton reminded everyone that audition panellists are ‘on your side’, concluding that auditionees should be true to themselves: ‘Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.’

For the interactive session, led by BYMT’s creative director Emily Gray, young people were coached in creating a new musical from scratch, with help from composer Tim Sutton at the keyboard. Time constraints didn’t allow for a huge amount of actual creating, but with the bare bones of an idea and an ‘I want’ song sketched out, the process of getting the show from page to stage was fully demonstrated, with interesting contributions from dramaturg Deirdre O’Halloran, choreographer/presenter Gyasi Sheppy and Music Theatre International’s Ryan Macaulay. 

BYMT's Creative Director Emily Gray 

With the rapid changes happening in Musical Theatre, it was a useful tool for young people who might be wanting to write their own work. After all, as the Lowry’s Matthew Eames told me back in the launch issue of Musicals (citing the success of SpitLip’s Operation Mincemeat): ‘The generation making work now realise that if they want to make a show happen they probably need to take responsibility for it themselves.’

The evening concert featured songs from numerous BYMT musicals, stretching as far back as 2005 (Goblin Market by Conor Mitchell and Kath Burlinson) and bringing us right up to date with Wonderland in Alice by Meg McGrady and Acken Taylor, directed and choreographed by Christopher Tendai, which is being performed this August. Highlights included the plaintive ballad ‘I Wish’ from Pippa Cleary and Gerry Flanagan’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, hauntingly performed by Kayleigh McKnight, currently starring as Jane Seymour in SIX in the West End; a dramatic medley from Frankenstein by Jimmy Jewell and Nick Stimson, brilliantly performed by BYMT’s Young Company and soloists Rebecca Levy, Sam Cooper and Tegan Prior; and a gorgeous, uplifting performance by Grace Mouat of ‘Any Day Now’ from Angry Salmon by Jordan Paul Clarke and Ali James. From the same musical, the Young Company then sang ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Finale’ with exuberant joy – a fittingly celebratory conclusion from the very people this event was all about.

BYMT Young Company singing 'Sunrise' from Angry Salmon

For more information on BYMT, click here; for tickets to Babies, visit The Other Palace