The paths and ponds at St Aidan's RSPB Nature Park in East Leeds will welcome a new type of visitor as the wildlife haven becomes the stage for Nest; a striking new immersive theatre piece that explores themes of identity, existence and climate migration through the eyes of young people using live music, design, visual projections, movement and performance.
Co-produced and co-commissioned by LEEDS 2023 with the National Youth Theatre [NYT] Nest is a promenade piece that will see the audience experience take place across the nature park. Set in the year 2050 (the year by which The Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change, outlined as the deadline to reach net zero), the story follows 20-year-old Maya who is attending a bird watching festival following the loss of their grandmother, who loved the natural world.
Nest features a huge cast of over 100 performers and 20 young people in backstage roles, including stage management and design, aged between 17-30 years, many of whom have been recruited from across Yorkshire in partnership with Leeds Playhouse through an open call, alongside existing members of the NYT. The audience will join Maya as she navigates her way around the park, following the cast across different locations as the story unfolds. The cast will also feature participants from NYT’s Associate Company, Compass Collective, who assist unaccompanied minor refugees and young people seeking asylum to build resilience and integrate into the UK through theatre, music and film.
Nest was conceived in response to an NYT members survey that found the climate crisis was the issue that young people were most interested in exploring theatrically. The site-specific piece is written by Emma Nuttall (‘Emmerdale’, ‘The Kraken Wakes’) and will be directed by Chief Executive and Artistic Director of National Youth Theatre Paul Roseby (‘Town Planning in the Apocalypse’ by James Graham at the Duke of York’s 2023, ‘Handel & Hendrix’ at Somerset House 2022, ‘Class’ by SS Daley at London Fashion Week 2021).
This is the first time St Aidan's, a former opencast coal mine in east Leeds, has been the venue for a theatrical show. The 355-hectare park features 12km of trails as well as reedbeds, wetlands, meadows and woodland. The largest walking dragline excavator in western Europe, nicknamed ‘Oddball’ - a 1,000-tonne reminder of the mine - overlooks the park, all of which will be carefully considered throughout the week of performances which has been timed to avoid disturbance to wildlife and migration patterns.
Kully Thiarai, Creative Director and CEO of LEEDS 2023, said: ““Amplifying the voices and stories of young people has been one of the core ambitions of our Year of Culture. As we enter our third and final season for LEEDS 2023 Part 3: Dreaming it seems only right that one of our major pieces in this season is a brilliant collaboration with NYT and a diverse group of young people exploring some of the big issues of our time. Nest dramatically brings into sharp relief our relationship with nature and takes us into the future through beautiful imagery and storytelling as young people share their hopes and concerns over what, environmentally, lies ahead.”
Paul Roseby, NYT, said: "Nest is the latest big show offering of NYTs art and activism programme unlocking facts and stories of our climate crisis by animating locations and unusual buildings in a dramatic way. Staged at St Aidan’s stunning bird sanctuary, both local, national and international performers take action with a world premiere production to lift our hearts, minds and give hope to a fragile earth we call home."
Nest is the culmination of NYT’s three-year art and activism programme, MELT, exploring themes and stories of the climate crisis.
Catherine Mitchell, Senior Relationship Manager, Arts Council England: “I’m delighted that we have supported Nest with an award of £100,000 through our National Lottery Project Grants programme. The project illustrates how cultural activity can explore serious issues such as climate change through immersive work performed in an unusual and inspiring setting. It’s also a great opportunity for young people to gain skills in backstage roles and for the audience to enjoy a truly spectacular creative experience.”
Tickets are now available here