The Drama Barn, home to York University’s Drama Society, may not (despite its flagrantly purple doors) appear to be anything particularly special. However, this converted barn, now black box theatre, has been the birthing and nurturing ground of a plethora of successful theatre talent for decades. Simon Stephens, perhaps the Barn’s most recognised alumnus, said (in his recent interview at the TFTV department), “I still think the Drama Barn is still the most important building in the United Kingdom”, and he also argued that, “Most things I learned about theatre aesthetic I learnt in the Drama Barn.”
Indeed, the Barn has been the playground of many people who have gone on to great things in the world of theatre. Big name former Barn frequenters include Anthony Horowitz, Nick Payne, Chris Bush (all of whom had their first plays performed in the barn), and Sean Holmes (director, and, recently, Artistic Director of Lyric Hammersmith). Others include the founders of York University-formed Belt Up Theatre company (Jethro Compton, Dominic Allen, Alexander Wright and James Wilkes), named “Edinburgh Fringe Royalty” due to their successful sell-out shows and who have now all gone on to pursue individual successes. Compton, for example, formed his own company (Jethro Compton Ltd) which enjoyed great triumphs at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe and at the Southwark Playhouse in London. Hufton, an associate artist of Belt Up and a theatre director, also began his journey within the hallowed walls of the Barn. The success continues as the most recent Drama Barn graduates have gone on to Mountview, Central, LAMDA and RADA drama schools (and that was only last year!).
So what is it that is so significant and valuable about the Drama Barn theatre itself? It could be that the blank canvas the space presents offers itself up to be transformed into almost anything the human mind can conceive. Perhaps it is the cluttered and characterful backstage area where costumes and props that have accumulated over the years jostle for position, and the walls (even in the toilet) are emblazoned with a plethora of signatures, posters and murals of plays and players past, all of which pay tribute to the rich theatrical tapestry that is the Barn’s history. Most likely though, it is the nature of putting on a successful play in the Barn (which requires a lot of DIY, ingenuity and hard work) which cultivates, through diligence and creativity, the kind of people and experiences which can lead to success in the world of theatre outside its walls.
Whatever the reason, be sure to get your taste of the Barn during your time at York, whether that is involvement in a production or as an audience member, and see for yourself what it is about that little black box which inspires theatre practitioners for years after they’ve graduated.