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British Youth Music Theatre during COVID-19

Written by: Leela Valadares Saili

From: Slough, England

Edited by: Luana Mayer

BYMT stands for British Youth Music Theatre, and this summer, I spent 6 days in the Roehampton University campus alongside 29 other theatre-loving teens aged 11-17.

On Monday 2nd August 2021, I was extremely fortunate to enter the gates of Roehampton University, suitcase in hand, ready to embark on an incredible adventure. Our first day started at 2 pm, so we arrived at 1 pm in order to settle in and meet other residents. We first met the incredible pastoral team who showed us our bedrooms. Before going to BYMT, I thought we would have roommates, but due to Covid, we were given individual bedrooms with our own suites. On each floor, we also had kitchens, which we ended up using after every meal and every night after our rehearsals. 

Breakfast started at 8 am, so we always woke up beforehand. After breakfast, we would organize ourselves and get ready for rehearsals at 9 am. When we went to the rehearsal space, we would do a physical warm-up, then a vocal warm-up, then an acting warm-up - all to stimulate our creativity. Subsequently, we would get to work: writing songs, pieces of script, dancing, or singing. At 11 am, we would get a 15-minute break and then get back to work until 1 pm for lunch. At lunch, just like every meal, we would go to the cafeteria and eat the most delectable meals. Afterward, we would always explore the campus or go to our kitchens. The campus was beautiful, with 2 lakes on either side of the accommodation, in addition to a beautiful mansion that always had an open door leading to a pastel-colored room with a large grand piano. It was the most beautiful location for our summer camp. Then we would return to the rehearsal space at 2 pm. We would work until 6, with a 15-minute break halfway through, changing what we were doing or continuing our previous work. At 6 pm, we would go to the cafeteria once again to eat dinner, and we would return to the rehearsal space for the final 2 hours of our day (7 pm-9 pm). From 9 pm to 10 pm, we had an hour to relax and socialize, which my new friends and I often spent singing karaoke and dancing around in the kitchen. By the time 10 pm came around, we would try to push our luck and stay in the kitchen until ‘silent time’ came around. ‘Silent time’ was a phrase used to describe 10 pm to 10:30 pm that was essential for us to be able to work hard the next day, but at night, even after a long day, we would often still have the energy to sing karaoke. This always meant that the pastoral team had to drive us out of the kitchen after we overstayed our welcome. The next day, we would do the same thing all over again. 

On our third day, we had a cabaret night where we expressed ourselves and showcased our talents. I have never seen such a hub of talent and passion. It felt almost surreal to be with such a gifted group of people. My friends and I signed up for a group karaoke - as well as our individual numbers - but when standing in front of everyone, we chose to invite all the other residents to sing with us. At that moment, while singing "All of Me," by John Legend, I felt very unified with all my peers - almost like I had known every single one of these people for my entire life. When all of us had completed our own individual performances, we collectively decided to sing "Call Me Maybe," the iconic Carly Rae Jepson song, which was the perfect ending to a lengthy day. Once our cabaret ended, we didn't let the karaoke end there. We returned to the kitchen and sang our hearts out. 

Our show was based on the novel "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett. We had lots of fun on the first two days creating a storyline and inventing our characters. We also wrote the opening song, and our choreographer choreographed it. The next day we auditioned for the main roles: one of the 3 siblings, the aunt and her friend, one of the 5 foxes, and or one of the 4 friends of the siblings. Those who weren’t cast could create their own characters, dances, and songs. We were all given lots of creative freedom which encouraged us to express ourselves in different ways and to try something new. I was cast as one of the foxes, so I named her Regina: partially after Regina George from Mean Girls, one of the most iconic characters of all time, and partially because the name means 'queen' in Latin, and I wanted to make my character into a diva, which was something very much out of my comfort zone. The foxes had their own rap and a dance break within the rap. I had a fight scene in addition to this, with another fox, which was a very difficult moment to stage. 

I learned a lot when participating in this summer camp about writing, acting, singing, choreography, and dancing. I wish I could relive every moment of it, and I created incredible bonds with people who have the same dreams and passion as I do. There are programs all around the UK for those passionate about performing arts (for those who live in the UK or abroad), so if you're interested in performing or writing, I definitely recommend this program to you!  

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