Borders Youth Theatre is celebrating its 30th year in 2019

In October 1989, the first Borders Festival was held and it laid the foundations for another successful group too.

By Julie Currie
Friday, 1st March 2019, 6:50 pm
Updated Friday, 1st March 2019, 6:57 pm
National Theatre Connections...BYT performed Chaos by Laura Lomas at Tower Mill last week and will be taking it to the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh on March 20.
National Theatre Connections...BYT performed Chaos by Laura Lomas at Tower Mill last week and will be taking it to the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh on March 20.

Organised by Lord David Steel’s wife Judy and Liz Smith, the duo wanted young people to get involved.

So John Haswell was brought on board to direct a performance by talented local youngsters and Borders Youth Theatre was born.

The group is now preparing to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Founded 30 years ago, some of the earliest BYT members were given a helping hand by actress Glenda Jackson in 1990.

David Bisset, the founding chairman, is delighted the group has nurtured young talent in the Borders for so long. And he recalled its long and proud history this week.

He said: “The festival was a big success, as was the youngsters’ performance.

“So Borders Youth Theatre (BYT) was founded, putting on its first show the following Easter, The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

“At that time, we only had seniors – young people who were aged over 12 – who worked with John on two productions per year, at Easter and October.

Taking centre stage...BYT performers show off their talents during their Beatrix Potter show in 2018.

“However, a few years later, BYT made a successful bid to Borders Council and the Scottish Arts Council for a director in residence.

“Stuart Aitken was appointed to the post for three years and introduced a junior section for children aged from eight to 12.

“Workshops were also set up in a number of Borders towns to help young people develop their skills.

“At that time, we received funding from a variety of sources to offer the workshops free of charge.

“These days, it’s getting harder to source funding so we have to charge a small fee for them.

“However, BYT was founded on the principle of being open to all so we can help subsidise workshops to ensure children can come along.

“In the last 30 years, thousands of youngsters have been part of our story, including my own son, Oli.

“And many have returned to the fold to lend their support to BYT, including Oli who is now one of the workshop leaders and Amanda Glasgow who runs the Melrose workshop.”

BYT has no permanent base but that also affords it the opportunity to put on Easter, summer and October performances in a variety of venues across the Borders.

While the workshops nurture young talent, not all of them choose to appear in the annual performances.

David explained: “We get youngsters from all over taking part in our three main performances.

“They only have two weeks to prepare for the show but they always do an amazing job.

“The quality of the BYT shows is exceptional. It’s just a shame they don’t attract larger audiences.”

Now an adviser to the BYT Trustees, David has also co-ordinated its place in the National Theatre Connections Festival for the last six years.

He added: “It’s a great platform to showcase our youngsters’ talent to a much wider audience.

“This year, they will be performing Chaos by Laura Lomas at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh on March 20.

“The cast premiered the show at Tower Mill last week and a National Theatre director was on hand to offer them advice for the Traverse.

“It’s a great opportunity for the youngsters to learn from a talented expert.”

To celebrate its milestone year, BYT launched its 30 More project at MacArts in Galashiels on February 8.

Eula Wilkin, BYT’s workshop co-ordinator, said: “We will be running our 30 More project throughout 2019. The aim is to encourage at least 30 new participants to join BYT this year.

“The launch event gave us a chance not only to celebrate the last 30 years, but to find out from participants, parents and friends how we can improve our services to evolve and continue for another 30!

“We also started the process of gathering ideas from our participants, asking people to think of new ways to reach a wider audience and to encourage greater participation.

“During the year we will support our young people in the creation and delivery of some of those ideas.”

While BYT employs professionals to direct shows and conduct workshops, it is run, funded and powered by volunteers.

Frances Mullan, BYT’s treasurer, said: “We can only do what we do thanks to our loyal volunteers who help us fundraise every year.

“We also receive grants and donations from trusts and arts benefactors, as well as receiving support from Scottish Borders Council, currently via Live Borders.

“We’d like to thank all the BYT supporters for their continued generosity.”

Youngsters welcome to join

Borders Youth Theatre runs workshops in six locations – Kelso, Melrose, Duns, Selkirk, Jedburgh and Galashiels.

Juniors start at eight years old and continue to P7. Seniors are from S1 to 25-year-olds.

The first session that a young person attends is free.

Financial assistance is offered where necessary to ensure BYT is as inclusive as possible.

The autumn term runs for 14 weeks, from August to December, and costs £70; the winter term is 10 weeks, from January to Easter, costing £50 and the spring term is eight weeks, April to June, for £40.

If anyone is interested, email Eula Wilkin at [email protected] or text 07392 824301.

Further information is also available on the website at or

Last year BYT worked with more than 300 young people on 29 performances seen by 1366 people. Its diary of events this year includes:-

Friday, March 8, 2.30pm to 6.30pm – Writers’ Workshop at Mac Arts, Galashiels.

Wednesday, March 20, 7pm – Chaos by Laura Lomas, 2019 NT Connections Festival performance at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Tickets are priced £8 (£6 concs).

March 30 to April 6 – Junior Easter project, The Witches by Roald Dahl, adapted for the stage by David Wood. A week-long project for eight to 12-year-olds, priced £80 with rehearsals and performances in Victoria Hall, Selkirk on Friday, April 5, at 7pm and Saturday, April 6 at 11am and 3.00pm. Tickets are priced £7 (£5 concs) or £20 for a family (two adults and two children).

April 8 to 10, TBC – Seniors’ masterclasses at MacArts.

Friday, April 26, 2.30pm to 6.30pm – Writers’ Workshop, MacArts, Galashiels.