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The End of the Old Theatre

Posted on 30 September 2010 Written by

Epiphany by THEATRE IS and Throwdown UK

As a young person with a voice within the arts, I often feel I am preaching a message that has been heard and ignored.

As a young person I have a voice, an opinion, an experience and desire to engage with the arts that I want to share, but I am not alone in this. A Younger Theatre was set up with this very ethos at it’s heart.

Young people aren’t quiet, they don’t just sit and watch theatre for the educational experience, they do it because – and this might shock some people – they love the experience. They thrive off the creativity and as cliche as it sounds to write, the magic that theatre has to offer. We hear countless times that young people need to engage with the arts more but it’s not always because they lack the conscious decision making to be able to attend the theatre, it is because they go, they engage and their voices aren’t always heard about it. A Younger Theatre is the platform for young people, and one we are proud to stand up and shout at those older people who have fluff in their ears when it comes to theatre for young people.

It is with great praise I can write of Stuart Mullins, Creative Director of theatre company THEATRE IS… with his current article in this weeks The Stage defending the need for young people to be at the heart of theatre work.

“What we need is a national entity which would provide the strategic leadership and focus necessary to make theatre for young audiences in England consistently world class.”

With the recent axe wielding of ACE in the funding cuts seeing the end of schemes such as Creative Partnerships and A Night Less Ordinary, young people are ruthlessly being cut from the arts. Mullins bravely stands up for the belief and promotes a rallying cry for young people to be placed at the heart of creativity, one which A Younger Theatre whole heartedly supports.

In a time where we can celebrate organisations/shows such as The Unicorn, Fevered Sleep, the National Theatre’s War Horse in pioneering a new generation of young audiences as Mullins suggests as the “crown of British theatre” – what more can be done to truly make young people heard and counted for? When will young people matter?

These companies are beginning to explore their connections with young people. On Ageing by Fevered Sleep at the Young Vic, and Contact Theatre’s mission of incorporating young theatre in the bulk of their work begins to place young people within the creative spotlight  – but how does this convey for the future ask Mullins.

I welcome the cry for the introduction of a “national hub for theatre for young audiences” – a place where as Mullins suggests a possible “international festival which brings together young people and the leading artists from around the world” to enhance equally shared creativity.

I welcome strategies, consortiums, discussions, voices to be raised for young people in the arts.

I welcome change, and the commitment of fusing young people in the heart of creativity.

Artists, organisations and theatre going people need to stop with their beliefs that young people should be seen and not heard, it’s dated and echos an era gone past. Theatre is not purely an educational tool for young people. If you want to excite, engage and thrive off the creativity that young people can bring, don’t just seek funding from arts bodies to tick off a box for audience outreach – actually begin to talk, engage, and believe in us.

The introduction of young people boards at the Lyric Hammersmith, Broadway Theatre Barking and the Take Over Festival at York Theatre Royal goes to show the creative and administrative input that young people can have towards theatre and art. Only time will see if this is a continued investment.

We still have a long way to go before we can reach our European counterparts such as Ontroerend Goed and Victoria whose recent work have fused young people as not only the stars but whole creative sources for new ground breaking work.

I welcome Mullins rallying cry for a national hub where we can, as young people, be invited to be young and creative. But when will young people be fully recognised as artists themselves, whose creative talent and imaginations can drive and fuel a new way of theatre making that destroys that of the old middle class theatre? And as Mullins final comments remark, could lead to a theatre “for the many and not the few”.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Jenna Omeltschenko Says:

    I echo all the thoughts and sentiments above.

    However as a young person who has developed at Contact I feel that we already have that national hub. It may not be in London but it certainly invites young people to be young, creative and more importantly to be leaders. We are empowered to make our own work and supported in the realisation of our ideas everyday.

    I have been a full board member at Contact for nearly two years now (Since I was 23 years old). I attend board meetings and sit on committees. We are also invited to interview every new member of staff from usher to Artistic Director. I represent other young people who use the building and voice their feedback about what Contact offers them as artists. There is no separate ‘Young Peoples Board’ simply young people who sit on the board.

    Contacting the World took place in July of this year and it is an international festival bringing young people to Manchester from Iran, Palestine, India, Jamaica and many more. These young companies spent a year creating work and collaborating online before sharing their practices and performances during the week long festival.

    I only wish more people knew about the work that Contact does. We could use that work and that ethos as a model for other organisations.

  2. Emrys Green Says:

    I agree with Jenna’s thoughts, Contact is an excellent hub of activity and should certainly be one of the organisations instrumental in the development of such an organisation. I also love your take on this Jake, its great to read such a refreshing outlook on this issue.

    Below is a response i’ve sent to the editor of the Stage:

    I agree with Stuart that a new national strategic organisation that can work with the industry, with young people already involved in participatory / education sector theatre, and with young people who are not currently classified as engaged could provide much needed leadership. As i have experienced through my involvement with Arts Council England initiatives, theatre can bring to life many environments in which young people find themself constrained. A notion of joined up thinking coupled with sustainable and meaningful engagement with young people; both in an institutilised way and, in a way that allows young people to dip in and out as they wish (with the aim that they will steadily increase their level of engagement), is something I believe the sector could celebrate and embrace in the face of uncertain times.

    Most importantly this should be led by existing organisations with expertise in this field (such as TheatreIS… and NAYT for example), and in a way that develops talent within young people now – not as future theatre makers, but as theatre makers today.

    The breadth of topics, and unstoppable imagination that children and young people bring to theatre will help create something for everyone, accessible and engaging work, from which life can develop. In this way theatre is not just about the odd trip to a traditional building, but a course of an everyday lifestyle; work found in inspiring and thought provoking locations.

    Access to theatre must be a journey for young people, a journey that is not arduous, but that is something to be followed rather than fallen in to, creating opportunity for young people to become professionals and develop our cultural economy as creative entrepreneurs.

    - – -
    Readers may also be interested in this provocation paper: http://www.culturallearningalliance.org.uk/uncategorized/the-engagement-of-young-artists-shaping-the-future-or-today

  3. Jake Orr Says:

    Thanks for your comment Jenna – it is great to read a response from someone who is clearly passionate and part of an organisation making change, but most importantly young.

    I believe what Stuart is attempting to declare in his article is that whilst there are organisations such as Contact who are pioneering work with young people it isn’t being heard. There are few organisations in London that can boast such commitment to their young people (although some as I have indicated in the article are trying).

    Whilst I don’t want to base my response on location, I think it is fair to say that theatre within the UK is London centric as it holds the most amount of venues and work at any given time. With this in mind there are very few places that are reflecting their work to young people that Contact and York Theatre Royal have done.

    My question is then: why are London organisations failing to use young people as a creative force to lead their work?

    I think Stuarts aim is to expand the models and ideas that Contact and other smaller companies such as Theatre IS… are already creating to a wider audience. If there was an organisational body which can reflect these ideas and help to nurture the work of young people across the whole of the UK then work such as that you are currently doing at Contact can be stretched further.

    Emrys: Good to read your response to the article. Hopefully it will be published in the newspaper. I think we as young people have to also echo the thoughts of Stuart to those who might listen. It can’t just be older practitioners/directors who are attempting to lead the work forward… it also has to be us that it concerns directly.

  4. Caleb Says:

    Jake, I love and appreciate your perspective here and also realized that you’re mainly discussing theatre from a UK perspective. Have you found any useful models or campaigns from the US, like where I live – New York, that can assist you in your goal of engaging young people like you (us!) to go to theatre more often? I have to admit that I love Broadway but the price of a theatre ticket is one that acts as a barrier, keeping me from enjoying what I love.

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