Interview with Corey Peterson | 'Theatre has become a home for me'

At my secondary school, my head teacher was really against drama so we only had one drama session as part of an English lesson every term, if that. You could take drama for GCSE, but my mum didn’t love the idea of me doing that, so I didn’t. But when I was in year 11, I joined Islington Community Theatre after school club and it completely changed everything. 

Company Three, as it’s now known, started to take over my life in the best way. Theatre was life.  I did everything I could with them – performing, mentoring, taking part in workshops, and then eventually ended up becoming one of their young associates. It was an amazing gateway into theatre. 

In many ways theatre has become a home for me. Because of my struggle with homelessness I’ve always sought out as many things I could do theatre-wise as possible. My homelessness was at its worst when I came back to London after leaving university and I was sleeping rough but theatre was still there for me. I was helped out by a number of projects targeted at young people at risk; I started working with The Big House, and did a project at the Lyric Hammersmith called Theatreworks, which led on to me being a part of the show Passin’ Thru about life in homeless hostels. 

Theatre has become a home for me

It was at the time that I was working on Passin’ Thru that I got a bursary for an NYT audition, which was amazing because I was living between hostels at that time and wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise. National Youth Theatre just seemed like the next step for me, and when I heard about NYT’s REP Company it just made me want to apply even more.

NYT is full of the most talented people I’ve ever met in my entire life. But it’s not just that everyone is so talented, they’re also so welcoming and kind. There’s a certain amount of pride that comes with rocking the merchandise, you want the world to know about the family that you’ve become a part of and you want them to know that they can be a part of it too. If you didn’t realise how amazing being a part of a family like NYT was before you auditioned, you will by the end of your NYT summer course. It’s a memory you’ll never forget, and if you haven’t at least shed a tear or pinched yourself by the end of the last day, you haven’t done it right. I cried a bucket load on the last day in front of my entire group. I’m not ashamed of it.

NYT has opened so many doors. Ever since I started, I’ve managed to be able to immerse myself in theatre in ways I wouldn’t have been able to do before – the free ticket offers and opportunities you can find on the members’ board really make a difference. The opportunity to work with National Youth Theatre and Rikki Beadle Blair on a new production of Twelfth Night has been one of the highlights of the last year for me.  

I make a lot of my own work now, and recently founded my first theatre company - Splinter. I was commissioned by the Barbican for a poetry project, but I wanted to push the boundaries of the brief, and to collaborate with some others. The Almeida Young Company, which I’ve been a part of since September, is filled with some ridiculously talented people, including loads of NYT members, so they were my first port of call when I was looking for collaborators. They were so keen on working together that we thought, ok, no, we’re not just going to do this commission but we’re going to find other things to do too – and so Splinter was born.  

I’ve managed to be able to immerse myself in theatre in ways I wouldn’t have been able to do before

We’re currently preparing for our first show ‘You must learn to understand’ which is part of this year’s Almeida for Free festival. It’s an interdisciplinary piece which tackles the frustrations that comes with mental health – particularly between mental health sufferers, and those who don’t understand the ins and outs of it. It’s inspired by the recent death of a friend. After that happened, it struck me that it shouldn’t get to the point where someone dies for people to realise the reality of mental health. So this play attempts to put the reality out there, and make a difference. 

If you’re a young person thinking about getting involved in theatre for the first time but are feeling daunted, I would say don’t worry! Theatre can help you in so many ways. It helps you physically and emotionally because to be an actor you have to keep yourself healthy, and look after yourself, but it can also help you find yourself.  And that’s important because that will free you, and it’ll keep you going – if you know yourself it’s easier to figure out where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. 

It's one of the most daunting, vulnerable and brave things to do to just put your raw self on stage; not only is overcoming that fear a great reason to do it, but  it'll be so worth it and so liberating in the long term. 

Theatre is people

Don’t be afraid of creating your own content. That’s one thing places like Company Three and NYT have done for me, they’ve allowed me to tap into myself a bit more and that’s allowed me to thrive when creating work.

For me, theatre is people. Whatever you decide to do in life, you’ll live around and work around people, so I think theatre is the best way to prepare yourself for that and, more importantly, to embrace that. The times at which I’ve felt least lonely in life, have been times spent in a rehearsal room. 

Catch Splinter's first show 'You must learn to understand' as part of the Almeida for Free festival on 4 April 2018. Free and entirely exclusive to Under 25s.  

Image: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

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