theatre for young audiences

This week we were lucky enough to be able to send a member of Filskit Theatre along to a very exciting event happening at our old Drama School. Every year Rose Bruford College holds a symposium event, a week-long festival made up of workshops, talks and performances which we loved as students, so were thrilled to have the opportunity to return. The exciting event in question was created in collaboration between Rose Bruford College, TYA UK and Theatre Centre called “Whose Title is it anyway?”. The purpose of this particular strand of the symposium was to explore how to meet the needs of venues and companies when making work for young audiences. The event included a workshop led by former Artistic Director of the Unicorn, Tony Graham, and writer Carl Miller, performances from companies including the first MA Theatre for Young Audiences graduate company, Floods of Ink, and discussions with an array of industry professionals. The two day event was both enjoyable, exhausting and raised a lot of questions. Here are some of our tea-fuelled musings straight after the event…

Firstly there was the question of identity: what is the identity of English Theatre for Young Audiences/what defines it? Tony Graham observed that there is no canon of work for children in this country, no pool of writers who specialise in TYA. Since we attended Take Off Festival in Durham, we have been aware of the stark difference between the work from England and the work from the rest of Europe for young audiences. The English work on offer at that particular festival was very text-heavy and much of it was based on traditional stories. The European work on the other hand was much more varied; some pieces had a more traditional narrative structure whilst others appeared to be more abstract and experiential. This was questioned at the Rose Bruford event; why do other countries come from such a different place when creating work for young audiences? Is it that we are driven by our text-based theatre past? Or do we simply not take enough risks?

If the latter is true and we are too safe and conservative in our approach to creating theatre for young audiences, then what can be done to encourage theatre makers like ourselves to take more risks? Of course it’s no good to simply try to emulate what we see coming from countries such as Holland and Belgium; copying rarely produces good results. We need to establish our own style of work for young audiences, which makes the most of our theatrical roots and training whilst also pushing the boundaries of what we think a child’s theatrical experience should be. This is just our opinion of course and is much easier said than done. Encouraged by discussions at the TYA event we feel that a solution could lie in the relationship between venues, companies and institutions such as Rose Bruford College, which now offers training in TYA. Such activities, discussions and relationships need to be nurtured.

The second question is one that we have been stewing over for some time; it is the notion of new work vs adaptations and what do we mean by the phrase “new work”. To us the term “new work” always referred to original pieces/stories with unfamiliar titles. However what if you take a well-known story, a fairytale perhaps, and present it in a way that it has never been done before, could this also be deemed “new”? It could be seen as a smart move to use a well-known story and title as a vehicle to introduce the audience to a practice or style that is new and unknown. There is no doubt that titles sell and are welcomed by audiences, this is something that we have discussed previously and can be verified by many programmers. However it is important not to stifle the voices of theatre makers and writers who have a new story to tell.

There are lots of questions that still need to be answered and no doubt will be spinning around in our heads over the next few days as we head into rehearsal, but the closing comment of the event is the one I will be taking with us: “make the work you want to make”. It’s that simple.

Image: Treasure Island Archive 20