Tess Nichol is an NZME. News Service reporter.

From wallflower to stage star - YWCA programme gave shy youth boost

Natasha Hoyland used to be a homebody - someone so socially anxious she'd cancel plans rather than go to parties worrying what other people were thinking of her.

Now, the 19-year-old is forging a career on the stage as a stand-up comedian, a path she credits to the Auckland YWCA's Future Leaders programme.

The programme pairs girls aged 14-18 with a female mentor and runs a series of workshops to build their life skills. Participants "graduate" from Future Leaders at the end of high school.

"If it wasn't for Future Leaders I wouldn't be doing stand-up comedy," Hoyland told the Herald on Sunday.

"It boosted my confidence immensely.

"For starters I actually went to events whereas before I wouldn't go anywhere - I found it scary and draining."

Hoyland was 15 and a student at Kelston Girls' College when she joined Future Leaders after hearing about the camps and workshops it offered.

"Basically I just wanted something to do," she said.

"Before the programme I was very introverted and rarely did anything."

Goal-setting sessions led to Hoyland signing up for a two-week comedy workshop, Class Comedians, the same course that kicked off Rose Matafeo's comedy career.

"One of my goals was about go-getting and trying new things even if they scared me," Hoyland said.

Class Comedians was a way of overcoming that fear, but she nearly turned the opportunity down.

"I said to myself 'I'll go to one workshop and if I don't like it I never have to go again'."

Luckily, she stuck at it, and in April Hoyland performed her first solo stand-up show at the NZ International Comedy Festival.

Hoyland's theatrical, observational performance earned her mixed reviews but marked her as one to watch.

She established a close relationship with her mentor, Debbie Harkness, and the pair keep in touch.

As an only child whose parents were working long hours Hoyland loved having an adult she could talk to about her newfound creative pursuits.

"My mentor was really awesome and helpful, she was a really creative person who understood the things that I did.

"Whenever I went to her house I'd see all the projects she was working on and we'd work on them together," she said.

Hoyland is studying theatre at Unitec and has been involved in several productions at Basement Theatre in the past year.

Harkness has come to every one, as well as Hoyland's comedy gigs.

YWCA Auckland boss Monica Briggs said the programme had helped hundreds of women in the 13 years it had been running.

This year, 114 young women did the programme, and the YWCA hope for many more in the upcoming years.

"It's to help young women become capable and confident leaders in many facets of society and taking their leadership skills back into their communities," she said.

"They're girls that would otherwise fly under the radar."

• For details on the Future Leaders programme go to akywca.org.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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