Stage star’s school at risk

Bid to save town’s youth theatre

Llanelli Star - - FRONT PAGE - Bethan Thomas [email protected]­plc.com

THESE days, John OwenJones is a house­hold name and fre­quent face on the West End’s stages.

But the per­former’s long-stand­ing love af­fair with the stage be­gan a long time ago, in a small theatre group in the heart of Llanelli.

To­day, how­ever, Llanelli Youth Theatre, com­monly known as LYT, is un­der threat and John OwenJones, along with the group’s im­pres­sive alumni of in­dus­try stars, are call­ing for help in or­der to save their sec­ond home.

The group is strug­gling to make ends meet be­cause of cuts to arts fund­ing. It wants to raise £5,000 so it can con­tinue to stage pro­duc­tions, har­ness young tal­ent and cu­rate the next gen­er­a­tion of young stars.

Founded in 1984, LYT was es­tab­lished by a band of young­sters with a pas­sion for per­form­ing.

Jill Stevens, the group’s ad­min­is­tra­tor and found­ing mem­ber, said: “We have been run­ning the group for al­most 35 years on a com­pletely vol­un­tary ba­sis. But now, be­cause of the lack of grant fund­ing for the arts and the dif­fi­culty of fundrais­ing these days, we need to raise £5,000 so we can carry on do­ing what we are do­ing.”

She added: “The view for es­tab­lish­ing the group was an am­a­teur set­ting with pro­fes­sional train­ing and attitude. Its aim was to present qual­ity drama, while at the same time in­volv­ing young peo­ple.

“We started as a re­ally small group and over the years it has grad­u­ally built and now thou­sands of stu­dents have been a part of it.

“We have had grad­u­ates from RADA (Royal Academy of Dra­matic Art), Bird Col­lege and Drama Cen­tre London,” added Jill.

“We have had stu­dents who have been se­ries reg­u­lars on tele­vi­sion shows, stars in West End pro­duc­tions and stu­dents who have moved over to the pro­duc­tion side of things – pro­duc­ing and di­rect­ing for the Na­tional Theatre and the BBC.”

And this seems to only scratch the sur­face with the theatre group known for pro­duc­ing qual­ity tal­ent. Its alumni in­cludes Trim­saran-born ac­tor Trys­tan Grav­elle, who starred in ITV’s Mr Sel­fridge and BBC’s Bap­tiste, as well as Na­tional Theatre direc­tor Ju­lia Thomas and West End School of Rock star Catherine Mor­ris.

Jill added: “The ma­jor­ity of stu­dents don’t go into ca­reers in the in­dus­try but learn in­valu­able skills that they can trans­fer through to their adult life.

“We are com­mit­ted to building con­fi­dence, com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills and work­ing with oth­ers and we have had so many stu­dents who have walked through the doors shy and then left as a com­pletely dif­fer­ent per­son.”

For­mer LYT mem­ber and Mountview Arts grad­u­ate Owain Gunn said LYT had “no doubt” helped in him in his ca­reer.

How­ever, he added: “But more than that, the friend­ships, con­fi­dence and re­spect I had there, will help me through­out my en­tire life.”

Mem­bers of Llanelli Youth Theatre in their pro­duc­tion of Grease and (be­low) for­mer mem­ber John Owen Jones, who is now a West End star.

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