Grainne Flynn and Joshua Wilkinson are the Young Board members of ‘Contact Theatre’. They are animated and clued-up about the changing landscape of theatre.
As board members, Grainne explained, they are “involved in the decision making and [representation of] all the young people involved in different programmes in Contact.”
They sit on panels that evaluate potential new members of staff alongside the main panel. “Having a young person’s voice is really important to give a different perspective from other older professionals on the board who may not think of stuff we would” (Grainne). Josh explained that all together, there are “fourteen board members, that’s including four young voices but even in terms of progression we’re looking to get that to a fifty/ fifty basis.”
He told me that “the ethos of Contact is having that young people’s approach to decision making at the centre of everything they do, it’s really important to be bold…” He emphasises the importance of this, given that these young people “are the people that those potential employees are going to work with…working first hand with them.”
When I asked about how they became Young Board members, Grainne explained that she started with the Contact Young Company: “I wanted to be an actor…but actually going to [CYC], it was different from any other young company because it actually gave you the opportunity to write your own work and really delve into different artistic disciplines, like choreography, writing, acting.”
Whereas, Josh described a different route, finding the job through The Agency. He found Contact through The Agency, “an outreach programme that will bring people into the arts, in a way that’s not a normal progression of someone in the arts.” He explained: “Contact has given so much to me in terms of opportunities…[I’ve] learnt business skills and how to run a business and a community project, that’s now become a business that I run.” He went on to say “for me specifically I wanted to be a voice to reach out to people who don’t understand Contact.”
Grainne emphasised how “in a lot of theatres you can think of yourself as just one thing,” but Contact “gives you an environment where you can test your skill and actually learn new skills”. Grainne and Josh have expanded their work from being performers to producing and commissioning.
When we discussed more specific projects for young people at Contact, Grainne talked about how the Young Commissioners programme has allowed her to take risks. She said “I’ve never commissioned a show before” and “to be given the opportunity to go ‘okay let’s see how it works’ is so important because how do you learn, unless you just take a risk?” This is what Contact encourages young people to do — find their voice. Josh mentioned ‘Music Drop’, a project that gives performers “an up in the industry”. People come into the space “with different songs they want to record, and they get supported with the equipment and the professionalism of the people who work for Contact.”
Both Grainne and Josh highlighted Contact’s focus on diversity with these projects. Josh explained that this focus is diversity in every sense — “young, old, different backgrounds, and that diversity is always there, because it reflects what the programming is showing.” Contact has two very impressive people representing the youth of Manchester in the arts.