Interview With Jon Bromwich, Executive producer for BYMT

Image description: A black and white picture of Jon Bromwich smiling at the camera 

British Youth Musical Theatre (BYMT) are currently holding auditions across the country, including Oxford, looking for young performers to join their company. I spoke to Jon Bromwich, BYMT’s executive producer about the challenges of holding auditions amid coronavirus restrictions and how BYMT are working to expand their reach across the arts.

How has the pandemic impacted the ability of young performers to showcase their talent?

The people that I feel sorriest for are third year students graduating from drama school, many of whom missed their final year showcases and the industry was pretty well moribund at that time. So the impact will probably have been greatest on them. Still, the disruption to the cultural industries has been so extensive that pretty much everyone has been affected.

What have been the biggest challenges for BYMT as a result of coronavirus restrictions on theatre performances and in person shows? 

With most of our productions taking place across the summer we were forced to cancel the whole of our 2020 season and move all production activity to Summer 2021. This meant that we were effectively trying to deliver two years worth of programming in 2021 and led to our largest ever season with over 700 young people aged 11 to 21 on residential courses. We created a COVID-19 charter to give ourselves the best possible chance of avoiding outbreaks of infection; all participants had to test in the days leading up to the courses and, once admitted, weren’t allowed to go anywhere off site. It was a very creative lock in! In the end this was successful and, of the 22 courses run during July and August 2021, we were able to deliver all but one.

In terms of access, what have been the hardest things to overcome for young performers?

The biggest challenge for young people has been the detrimental effect on confidence of the successive lockdowns and varying restrictions. In addition, many families were affected financially and this meant that a number of young people were unable to pay for course fees as they might have done in the past. Having said that we certainly experienced a bounce back effect with demand for places on many courses exceeding our capacity to deliver. It was immensely gratifying that so many people wanted to get out and make theatre again.

What is the most challenging aspect of doing so many auditions all around the country?

Our annual auditions are pretty well oiled now and the only real challenges are likely to be bad weather preventing our creative staff getting from one venue to another. In the past we have had to avoid major snow falls in Scotland and railway lines being washed away in Devon. It keeps us on our toes! 

How does auditioning online vs in person impact the way that you are able to assess the ability of applicants?

The most difficult thing about online auditions is drama practitioners assessing group work, the interactions of the performers. This is much less easy to do online. However, musical directors have found vocal assessment to be almost as good as it is in person and, perhaps to our surprise, choreographers also felt that they were able to make accurate assessments. One of the advantages of the BYMT way of working, however, is that we don’t cast individual roles in our auditions. We assess young people and, if they are successful, we allocate them onto projects. The detailed casting is then done in the first 48 hours of each project. Still, in principle, we would always prefer to audition live, if only because all our auditions are group workshops lasting 3 hours – all the songs and dance routines are taught in the room.

How important is it to you that performers are given a way into the industry at a young- do you think it’s necessary for everyone wanting to get into the arts to pursue formal training?

I think that formal training has become more important over the years. 40 years ago, many actors and technicians in the industry were able to start with ‘on the job’ training; but today formal training is more of a necessity. We may have lost something by this and there is an argument that some drama school training is overly formal and stifles creativity. On the other hand, some performers do make their way into the industry without training and are very successful. 

Finally, what are you most looking forward to about the upcoming auditions and especially the audition taking place in Oxford?

I always love auditions. The great joy of be BYMT is suddenly spotting an unusual talent, a raw talent that perhaps you hadn’t expected. And it is subsequently very gratifying to see many of those talents making their way professionally in the industry, as I do almost every time I look through a West End or National Theatre programme. We have had some superb performers come through the Oxford auditions and I look forward to seeing many more this year.

BYMT are holding auditions in Oxford on the 13th of February. More info about auditions and other work that the company do can be found on their website.