JANE NICHOLL visited the Shoestring Theatre in South Norwood to discover a community arts group that has survived a decade of austerity, yet is thriving thanks to hard work and, in some part, the generosity of a former member
The Croydon Youth Theatre Organisation – CYTO – is getting very busy this spring. The drama group has been going for 55 years, operating from premises in Oakley Road in South Norwood – the aptly named Shoestring Theatre – for the last 30 years, where the rent is subsidised by Croydon Council. They are currently in the process of applying for the subsidy through to 2024.
Prior to 2011, the council provided all the project’s funding, but this was withdrawn due to council cuts. The theatre group did not make a drama out of this crisis. Now CYTO is funded by their membership which has doubled in the last couple of years due to an increase in age range to cover from six-year-olds to 18.
They also have donors, and a patron, Matthew Wright, of The Wright Stuff TV show, who was a member of CYTO in the 1970s.
They also rely on grants and fundraising to stay afloat.
The theatre is run by a group of volunteers – Ollie Springate and co-worker Scott Le Crass are among three paid part-time workers. They are all paid for a very small number of official hours, and they give up much more time voluntarily.
Springate said they are looking to increase their volunteer numbers of the next few months. At the moment they are in the process of applying for funding for an artistic director.
“CYTO is more than just a theatre group for young people,” Springate said.
“We don’t accept them just on their acting ability, their involvement at whatever level increases self-confidence and learning to work collectively as a team.
“We also have a Safeguarding Team who are all former school teachers who are there to identify any of the young people who might have personal issues at home, or for example confusion over their sexual identity, where the team can step in to identify and signpost in the right direction for support.
“We have a monthly chill and chat evening, where all the members meet up to discuss basically anything they want and socialise.
“I started here when I was 13 – I’m now 21. I was very shy and lacking in self-confidence, and the group helped me overcome this. And that’s why I’m here, to enable young people to have the same experience that I had.”
Membership fees are £35 per term, which includes all workshops, classes and shows.
A tour of the building reveals an impressive gem of the local arts scene: the costume department is an amazing two-roomed Aladdin’s cave of row upon row of theatrical costumes, all either from charity shops or donated, and either altered or repaired by gifted volunteers. The theatre itself seats 80, with an impressively sized stage. And the props? Of course, all made by the volunteers.
Their most recent productions have been Scrooge and Feathers In The Snow. They are currently rehearsing for their next production Crysalids, with the first performance on April 30, but CYTO has also recently launched midweek singing, street dance and choir sessions, to offer ever more to the Croydon’s multi-talented youngsters.
To find out about becoming a member or volunteer, and to check out what’s on, click here to visit the CYTO website.
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