LITTLE could Naomi Alexander have realised that on attending the opening gala for Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT) last May she would be putting on a new youth stage festival just over a year later.

Alexander was in the audience at BOAT to witness the dream of a dying man become reality. Stage writer Adrian Bunting had told his friends before he died in 20XX that he wanted them to build an open air theatre for the city.

Inspired by seeing Adrian's friends deliver on the dream, Alexander decided to do something to enable children and young people to discover the magic of theatre for themselves.

Alexander, who previously worked at the Old Vic and Battersea Arts Centre in London, decided to use her experience to bring together different arts organisations in Brighton and Hove - and the first Starboard Festival was born.

She says, "I felt very moved on that first night at BOAT by the story about the four people who came together.

"Not only is the story behind BOAT so inspiring, the space itself is magical - a theatre-maker’s dream. I wanted BOAT to become part of young people's psycho-geography of the city.

"There really seems to be a groundswell of support for the idea of making theatre with, by and for children and young people."

Working with the city’s major cultural institutions, Starboard features top national theatre made for children and young people but is also about making new theatre.

Starboard features work by 23 companies - from local primary schools, colleges, drama groups and professional theatre makers to Brighton Dome, The Old Market, Theatre Royal, Komedia and South East Dance.

One school is performing a play partly in Spanish while others take on some of Shakespeare’s classics.

Some youth theatre groups are presenting work old and new about what it is like to be a young person in 2016.

Elsewhere, led by theatre director Ria Parry, youngsters will work together to create a play in a week, premiered on the final weekend of the festival in a double bill with a new play written for and with students at Cardinal Newman Catholic School.

Alongside the shows, each weekend sees leading theatre-makers run workshops both for youngsters and theatre professionals.

Alexander, who lives near Preston Park in Brighton with her husband and infant son, hopes the power of stagework will give children formative experiences.

She says, "The experience of standing onstage and being seen is really powerful in itself, particularly in today's climate where the arts are being pushed to the very edges of our curriculum.

"I also passionately believe the arts should be a viable career choice for anyone who feels drawn towards them. And I believe Starboard can be a part of that.

"It felt important to me that work created by children and young people is presented alongside work created for them.

"We hope that by coming to see shows, and participating in workshops, more young people might be inspired to make their own work.

"If people want to forge their own career path, to become the next Julie Walters, that would be amazing."

Alexander, Brighton-born and bred, also hopes giving youngsters a sense of ownership will help BOAT survive in the long-term.

She says, "Starboard just seemed like a great opportunity and has been a fantastic journey and a lot of hard work."

Adrian Imms


• Danny The Champion Of The World, Wednesday, July 6, and Thursday, July 7

Illyria Open Air Theatre bring Roald Dahl’s pheasant-poaching classic to BOAT (pictured above). Starts 4pm, tickets £7.

• Poets Vs MCs: Youth Team, Friday, July 8

In conjunction with The Old Market, poets and rappers are pitted against each other in competition for the tightest rhetoric, the wildest imagination and the most dexterous barbs. Starts 7pm, tickets £7.

• Macbeth, Saturday, July 9

Windmill Young Actors bring the biggest cast to ever perform at BOAT (101) to perform the classic. Starts 7.30pm, tickets £5.

• Little Wing, Sunday, July 10, and Saturday, July 16

Banyan Tree Theatre, an all-female black and ethnic minority company, with coming-of-age tale for those aged four plus. Starts 2.30pm, tickets £5.

• The Illuminating Times Of The Darkling Society, Saturday, July 16

The closing event is a play by Kilter Theatre presented by Brighton Dome. A band of musicians and outsiders embark on an expedition as darkness falls. Starts 8.45pm, picnics from 7.30pm, tickets £7.

• How To Be A Superhero, Sunday, July 17

A show combining magic and storytelling by Simply Told Theatre with Theatre Royal Brighton. 2pm and 4pm, tickets £7.


Brighton Open Air Theatre, Dyke Road Park, Hove, Friday, July 2, until Sunday, July 17

Ticket prices vary, normally £5-£7,