Fourteen days and nights of theatre, music, film, cooking, exhibitions and opinion-gathering – produced and managed by young people.

Young people dancing with old people, a Hall full of polystyrene heads, a bike-like-no-bike-you’ve-ever-seen, teenagers acting with the pros, secret cupboards of unexpected knowledge and dreams, young people cooking and waiting at tables, young people writing brand new plays, beatboxers, soapboxers, chill-out zones, the Theatre wrapped in brightly coloured cloth, new soundtracks, cocktails, entranceways, an explosion of energy, imagination, opinions and ideas…. an explosion of the truth about youth.

At the heart of Festival planning were the 14 Young Leaders, who formed the core TaY team from Autumn 2011 onwards. Working in all areas across the organisation from Festival Management, Producing & Programming and Marketing Strategy to Front of House, Directing, Design and Stage Management, each Young Leader took part in a bespoke training programme designed to develop their creative and arts management skills and future employability. The Young Leaders worked with an external design agency to develop all Festival marketing materials, programmed and hosted the Festival Launch, led on all Festival press, and worked with professional Designer Amanda Stoodley to transform the theatre building into a colourful splash of life – a vibrant space including decorated entranceways and a chill-out zone.

Elsewhere, teams of young people (and adults) worked together to create performances, exhibitions and events which filled the Theatre. 15 young and intergenerational companies devised, rehearsed and created 20 new pieces of theatre, young comedians perfected their patter under the watchful eye of professional comedian Justin Moorhouse, and young photographers mounted Exposure – an exhibition of photographs exploring the real TaY. The Shout Out Radio team created and launched their radio station, conducting interviews throughout the Festival, and teams of young people developed the skills to welcome visitors to the building and to work front of house, as well as being trained up to Take To The Streets with the Bikeaphone (complete with colourful flags and a huge megaphone) and the Opinionator (a fantastical mobile booth designed to generate evaluative evidence on the changing perceptions of youth by asking the general public daily questions). The Cuisine Sixteen team prepared to take over the restaurant, and young craftspeople put the finishing touches to Future Makers, a professional selling exhibition of crafts in the Craft Shop.

Outside the theatre, a network of creative partnerships were developed with companies and individuals from across the North West. Partner organisations including professional theatre companies Quarantine and 20 Stories High, media partner BBC Radio Manchester, Community Arts Northwest, Reclaim and Springboard were joined by fledgling teenage companies, Speechmakers and performers who presented their work at daily Youth SFX events. Schools from across the region were also involved, taking part in the Big Blue Box of Ideas and creating a range of visual art and performance work for the Festival.

TaY: The Festival launched on 16 July, the start of fourteen days and nights of theatre, music, film, cooking, exhibitions and opinion-gathering – produced, programmed, project-managed and fronted by young people.

• Total Active Participants during the Festival = 1,049 / Young People: 884; Adults: 165
• Total Audience = 12,335
• 83% of audiences said that the Festival had made them stop and think about young people
• 60% of audiences said that they feel differently about young people as a result of their attendance at the Festival

Young Leader Feedback:
“The time I spent at the Royal Exchange has been one of the best experiences of my life. The direction and mentoring we received was beyond anything I could have hoped for. It was like a work experience placement in which a two-way conversation was encouraged, and the people we were working alongside appreciated your input and creativity as much as you appreciated their guidance”

“I feel we achieved our aims of changing, at least in part, the negative stereotypes of young people. I loved the conversations the festival opened up with members of the public and felt like it really started an exchange between young people and other members of society”

Audience Feedback:
“I would really like to congratulate the Royal Exchange for putting together such a significant project that brings young people into the organisation at so many levels, up to the point of influencing the choice of plays for the main stage and the marketing materials. It’s a great way to make change happen!”

“It was a really inspiring evening demonstrating the positive ways in which the skills and aspirations of young people can be illustrated and highlighted to a wider audience whilst helping to boost skills and self-esteem of the young people involved and inspire and motivate others.”