Interview with Calum Finlay

Calum Finlay is Associate Artist of Playbox Theatre and host of weekly online series CHATTERBOX, which sees Calum in conversation with fellow actors, directors and artists from across the industry. I caught up with Calum to find out more about the series.

Can you tell me about CHATTERBOX?
I sure can: CHATTERBOX is an online and interactive interview series aimed at young people. We’ve had some incredible guests including: BAFTA, Oliver and EMMY nominated actor Juliet Stevenson; the star of 1917 George Mackay; multi-award winning Hamlet, Paapa Essiedu; and, in a few weeks time we’ve got the Shadow Culture Secretary, herself a former actor, Tracy Brabin!

There are three ways for young people to get involved. They can register for a free place ‘in’ the interview where they can pitch their questions to the guest. They can watch the live stream via the Facebook Page of their youth theatre or school (it’s completely free for organisations to stream) or, they can catch-up on demand whenever they’d like on YouTube.

What was the inspiration behind the series?
It started as a way to engage members of Playbox Theatre (the company who produce CHATTERBOX) whilst their in-person workshops were cancelled. We knew that we wanted young people to feel inspired and that it needed to be deliverable online. The arts have taken a battering the last few months and it’s important that young people still feel they have access to them.

It’s not an original idea by any means – I love the rambling conversations of Adam Buxton and I’ve been a part of enough post-show Q&A’s to know that the interactive element is engaging for an audience – but where we differ from organisations like Masterclass is that we encourage young people to engage with their youth theatre directly. We’re not pulling young people towards a central organisation, we’ve partnered with youth theatres up and down the country who co-stream the live interviews to their own Facebook pages – and, it looks like the post is being made by that organisation! The members who tune in can’t see where the original live broadcast is coming from, so the engagement stays localised. We’re trying to support youth theatres in their attempts to keep their local communities of young people engaged.

What has been the reaction to the first series?
It’s very quickly grown! Series 1 Episode 1 we had around 70 young people in the interview with us, and a handful tuning in to the live stream on YouTube. Series 2 Episode 1 had 100 young people booked to be ‘in’ the interview (full capacity) and had 1,400 people view the live stream on Facebook with 4,727 people catching up ‘on demand’ so far!

What can audiences expect from series 2?
A wider spread of guests! In Series 1 we spoke to actors. This series, as well as actors, we’re talking to other creatives working in the live arts including writers and the Shadow Culture Secretary. You can expect lots of talk about entering the industry as well as questions about the creative process and the business of working in the arts.

How important has it been for you to keep young people engaged with the arts during the lockdown? 
Very. The arts allow young people to tell us what they think about the world that we older people are stewards of. It allows them to reflect in a community of people who genuinely care about what they think. It gives them a voice and allows them to be heard.

What can the public do to help youth theatres during this difficult time?
This is a tricky one because a lot of people are having a tough time at the moment, but for many youth theatres the problem is financial. They’ve had to lock-up buildings, freeze memberships, postpone productions and close cafes. Playbox Theatre, for example, is in the middle of a £50,000 fundraising campaign that is absolutely fundamental to their survival. Since it opened its doors in 1986, Playbox has been a creative home for over half a million children and young people – and now, that’s in jeopardy. Playbox need the money to support the running costs of their building, to fund a core team of essential staff and to create full online programmes of inspiring, meaningful and creative activities for young people. They, like many youth theatres, don’t receive any regular funding and so a sudden halt to its self-supporting finances is potentially devastating. The same will be true of youth theatres all over the country. So, if your youth theatre has a fundraising campaign at the moment, and you can afford to, then donate.

If you can’t donate then drop them an email and tell them how valued they are to you and your community. Ask what you can do to help – maybe you have an essential skill you can volunteer to them over the next few months! I wasn’t able to offer much financial support to Playbox, but as an Associate Artist I was able to create CHATTERBOX for them – as well as engaging their members it hopes to support their fundraising campaign through donations at the end of each episode.

What would you like CHATTERBOX to achieve?
For young people to engage with their local youth theatre. For young people to develop artistically by talking to industry professionals. For young people to believe that the arts is there for them and cares about what they think.

For more information visit playboxtheatre.com/chatterbox

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