We were delighted to welcome professional actors, and former Forest Forge Youth Theatre participants, Leah and Mhairi Gayer to our screens for another wonderful ‘Artists Talk’. Don’t worry if you missed it, here they tell us all about their talk, being in Youth Theatre, and their careers in theatre!
Just in case you missed our Artist Talk with Forest Forge we have written a few lines for you here! We’ll tell you about our early days in Forest Forge Youth Theatre, our journey to becoming professional actors and our non-profit theatre company Compass collective.
It all started with the wonderful local hero that is Lucy. Her dedication and passion for the youth theatre changed many lives and set us on a journey that has taken us beyond our expectations of what we could achieve. We all took it for granted, but Ringwood has a very special woman in our midst.
Let face it. School is hard, and being a young person in today’s world is tough. With so much pressure from exams and social media, so much focus on image and appearance, it’s hard to stay playful, laugh at yourself and keep your inner kid alive and kicking. Lucy has guided so many people through the youth theatre, creating a safe space for young people to connect, learn and stretch themselves. She understands the balance between fun and challenge. I remember the excitement of show week, the group united in a shared goal, and yes, I do still remember a few of her infamous ‘bollockings!’ At a time when the arts are being cut in schools, Forest Forge Youth Theatre has never been more important.
Our own teenage years were interrupted with a fair amount of family tragedy and Forest Forge became a safe haven. It’s a place that celebrates misfits, champions young voices, and allows you to find who you really are.
Inspired by Forest Forge, we both auditioned for the National Youth Theatre and attended a summer course in London. There we met people from across the UK, from all walks of life, people with a passion that they didn’t hide. NYT was like fireworks. They lit up the sky and opened up a whole world of opportunities for us.
The following year we both auditioned and were cast in the Team Welcome Ceremonies for the Glasgow Commonwealth games. We spent a month in London rehearsing and then a month in Glasgow, performing up to seven shows a day in the heat of a surprisingly hot Scottish summer. It was during our time there that the words drama school floated around a lot. Apparently it was quite hard to get into and it sounded full on, fun and a good challenge.
After rounds and rounds of auditions, we started at Guildhall and RADA. This was the first time we lived apart and was a big shift from our shared identity as twins to our growth as individuals.
Three years later we graduated and signed with top agents in London. Mhairi won the gold medal for acting and was nominated for the prestigious Spotlight Prize. Now our professional lives as actors began! Leah landed a job at the Bridge Theatre, being cast as a lead role in Alys Always directed by Nicolas Hytner. Our professional work includes TV such as Doc Martin and Bloodmoon (the Game of Thrones prequel), Macbeth, and Me Myself and I for the stage.
During drama school we both spent time in refugee camps and centres in Europe and the Middle East, bringing drama and music workshops to children. This is where the real truth about the refugee crisis hit home, and since then we’ve dedicated our time to helping refugees and asylum seekers integrate into the UK through arts-based projects.
We co-founded Compass Collective, a non-profit theatre company working with people seeking sanctuary, primarily unaccompanied minors. The aim of our work is to strengthen communities, build resilience and help people seeking sanctuary integrate into the UK. We co-directed ‘I know who I am’ at the Arcola Theatre, ‘Voices in the Dark’ at Shakespeare’s Globe and ‘We Walk Tall’ at the Southwark Playhouse, to name just a few. During lockdown, Compass moved our projects online. We have been running weekly online creative workshops and created a film ‘On-the-Line’ during lockdown with over 60 young refugees and asylum seekers from across the UK. It was streamed live on World Refugee Day and watched by over 12,000 people!
You can watch On-the-Line Here (password ONTHELINE)
Due to high demand, we have been continuing our weekly workshops. Our latest project was an online digital exhibition ‘Over-the-Line’, in collaboration with Code Your Future. Check it out here https://over-the-line.uk/
Living in a global pandemic with so many restrictions to theatre has proved that we need to find innovative, creative ways of keeping connected and processing the world around us using the arts. Giving these marginalised young people a voice has been a humbling experience. It’s been a real privilege, and they’ve taught us as much as we’ve taught them. Refugees and asylum seekers bring rich cultural contributions to this country. Their stories unite us all to our shared humanity; our universal experiences. Through our projects we have discovered diverse, exciting new talent and it’s been a joy to help grow these budding, talented young people; to help them feel confident and capable of meeting life’s challenges. We recognise the power of their voices being used to represent their own stories and reframe the refugee ‘narrative’.