Children’s theatre matters – Take it seriously!



In the last week there have been articles by two of the top supporters of theatre for young audiences – Lyn Gardner in the Guardian and Susan Elkin in The Stage – questioning why children’s theatre is not taken more seriously.

Half Moon Theatre audience watching a play in Limehouse, East London

Lyn’s article was an edited version of a speech she made at the Unicorn theatre in London last week, on being presented with an award for outstanding contribution to children‘s arts by Action for Children’s Arts. It’s worth a read and touches upon whether we place enough importance on the arts in the development of children in this country.

Jake Orr from A Younger Theatre commented;

I can’t help but to feel disheartened that we are still having to fight for children’s theatre as an accepted and celebrated form of theatre.

 

Please can someone – anyone – give me a valid reason why children’s theatre is so often pushed to one side?

Mike Kenny, who adapted the Olivier Award Winning The Railway Children and regular writer for children’s company tutti frutti, offered his thoughts and pointed out the irony of shunning children’s productions;

The issue has never been the quality of the work for children, or the seriousness of intent on the part of the people who make it. Sadly, with the shining exception of Lyn, the serious cultural reviewers do not pay it any consistent attention.Why this should be so, I’m not sure.

 

I have always suspected that they fear that their own credentials as cultural commentators will be questioned if they spend time amongst children. Being with infants might tar them as infantile.

 

The huge irony is that our two national companies are currently sailing on a sea of money generated by shows for children’s audiences. Much of the work reviewed in the broadsheets is subsidised by children and their parents.

 

High profile work always emerges from a complex theatre ecology. Critical attention is the missing link in that ecology for children’s theatre.

While in The Stage, Susan Elkin carried on in a similar vein to Lyn Gardner;

Why does this industry not take theatre for children and young people seriously? Theatre and live performance is in my view essential – not some kind of expendable add on – to the education and development of children and young people. It also provides hundreds or jobs and masses of invaluable experience for, mostly young, actors.

Susan also wondered if the problem also stems from our future actors not being trained for working on theatre for young people;

I also worry about actor training for this sort of work because it requires pretty specific skills, especially if the show is aimed at the youngest children.

 

Yes, Rose Bruford has an MA in theatre for young audiences and Birmingham School of Acting has a BA in Applied Theatre which includes theatre for young audiences – and there other examples. But in most drama schools theatre for young audiences gets only a nod in a module if it’s there at all. So I suspect that even some students and young actors come to regard work for young audiences as something peripheral which you do only if you can’t get anything else.

Production image from Dig and Delve by Half Moon Theatre and Rose Bruford College

Rose Bruford College students (above) performing in Dig and Delve created with Half Moon Theatre as part of their final year degree courses.

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