It’s a schools performance with 300+ teenagers swarming through the foyer. There’s a huddle of them sitting on the steps; a cross-section of the Hawke’s Bay teen community with a multitude of uniforms and a couple in mufti. There’s a confidence about this particular group, they are loud, proud, heads up, shoulders back, smiles. They’re relaxed around each other, like they belong. A father I’m with looks at me knowingly and says “NYDS kids. One big family.”
NYDS kids: the young students of the National Youth Drama School, an annual performing arts intensive based in Hawke’s Bay but with students coming from as far away as the UK.
For parents looking for something more for their teens beyond sport and qualifications, NYDS is a lifeline. For the kids themselves it introduces them to ‘their people’, and to a world of notjust performance, but tech skills, writing, directing and production.
What do we want for our young people? Resilience, independence, a sense of belonging, that ever-elusive self-confidence, joie de vivre. An entity like NYDS creates an environment that supports young people to build these strengths. In so doing the wider community is enriched, and the future looks brighter thanks to the vibrancy these kids inject into it.
NYDS is open to 14-19 year olds and runs workshops in theatre, film, dance, design, circus and a whole swag of other performing arts skills. The school happens over a week every April in Hawke’s Bay and is known, around the world, for the quality of its faculty and the intensity of its teaching.
Recent students include LJ Crichton and Emmanuel Fuimaono, who have just finished the Festival Opera run of La Boheme, and Calvin Corner who was part of the inaugural Steam Quest event in Napier in February. These kids stand out.
“You meet a lot of people who are interested in the same things as you,” explains Calvin. “Or they know more than you and you learn from them and stretch your own knowledge.”
Calvin is 18 and has done two years with NYDS studying short film production and screenwriting.
“There’s diverse classes so we discover new things,” he says.
He’s no shrinking violet but he assures me that he was once shy.
“NYDS helps develop those skills like confidence and public speaking, whether on stage or with people in a social environment,” says Calvin. “I wasn’t bad at those things but I needed a boost, it helped me become better at interacting socially.”
Kelie Jensen is the NYDS executive director and works with a team of trustees and tutors on running the School. The calibre and experience of the teaching staff is high, but for her the stars of the show are the students.
“They are passionate and accepting, and they bring with them an energy that’s limitless and feeds the School and the community,” Kelie says. “For whatever reason, they feel they can be themselves and that’s very empowering. It’s emotional. They find their tribe and it’s transformative.”
Kelie also feels that the energy the students have gleaned from the School stays with them when they return to their everyday lives.
“The School lights a fire in them,” she says.
The skills learnt at NYDS are directly transferable when they get back to their own schools and friends. It strengthens their core, emotionally and physically.
Kelie explains: “NYDS is focused on performing arts but it’s more like Outward Bound or the Spirit of Adventure. It gives this balance between safety and an experience of freedom. There’s a sense of drive, passion and motivation that the kids take home.”
There’s another element to NYDS that delivers an extra experience to some kids, that a more conventional weekly drama lesson wouldn’t. Many of the students aren’t from Hawke’s Bay, staying in dorms or in home-stays around Hastings and Havelock. That brings its own ‘next level’ independence.
“NYDS also reaches those kids who are from remote rural areas,” says Kelie, listing Tapanui, Gore and the West Coast. “Those kids realise something for the first time … ‘Look at these people who love what I love! I belong to this bigger group of people I never knew existed’.”
There are up to 30 tutors working at the School each year and this year’s school has 268 students. Tutors bring a range of realworld expertise and include well-known names like songwriter Wyn Drabble, Iona College director of performing arts Lisa Jane Hay, videographer and Indelible Ltd director Dan Browne and performance poet Ben Fagan.
“That’s an amazing reflection of our need as a society for the performing arts,” says NYDS founding father and long-time Hawke’s Bay theatre stalwart Ken Keys.
Twenty four years ago, when NYDS began, it was Ken who worked with a small group of people focused on getting the idea off the ground.
“It was intuition that led me to start this thing,” says Ken. NYDS is a form of education that has been lost in many areas of industry, the notion of apprenticeship, of ‘doing your time’. Once a student has done a few years with NYDS they are well prepared to go out into the industry, in performance or production or one of the many adjunct areas that benefit from having confident, imaginative, empathetic contributors. Many also go on to further study in performing arts at tertiary level. Fifty percent of the tech stream at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School are NYDS graduates.
“There’s nothing like NYDS in the world,”says Ken. “The interconnections between the student and the community are magic, with kids coming back to help and moving up through the ranks, they know the culture and they recontribute to it.”
Having increased its roll every year since its inception, NYDS is now at its uppermost limit in terms of numbers. Applications close in September for the following April, and entry is granted on a first-in first-serve basis. The task now is consolidation rather than growth. Kelie and Ken are both keen to see the School bolster what it already offers and continue to strengthen its links to the wider community and to the performing arts industry.
“That energy that emanates from the arts community makes for a civilised and dynamic society,” says Ken, who is proud of the arts community in Hawke’s Bay as a whole, but also of the School he helped bring to life here.
“The essence of the arts is an open mindedness, a tolerance, the training of the empathetic muscles,” he says. “We’ve come a long way from just training the brain and the body, the arts allow the soul and the spirit to flourish too.”
NYDS runs from 16-24 April with opportunities for the public to sit in on some sharing of work.
Visit nyds.co.nz for details.