“Take a child to the theatre today! Or Take theatre to the child? Are they equally valid? This year we have two world day message writers – one from the USA and one from Syria – which represents these two points of view speaking from starkly different realities. #Take a child to the theatre has been our rallying cry since 2012 as we celebrate the World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People every 20th March and reaffirm our commitment to every child’s right to artistic experiences created especially for them.
This year I would like to argue that it’s reverse is often more justified and equally as important. When we consider the millions of children who do not live within the easy reach of a theatre building (especially one designed for them and their needs), we must as artists expand our notions of what theatre can be if we truly believe in the arts as a basic human right. Of course this idea is not new in the history of theatre, but somehow the distinctions of formal vs. informal still seems to pervade our value systems and our notions of quality when we talk about theatre for young audiences. The rough magic that can transform a dusty playground, or a township hall, a school classroom, or a refugee compound, is often what is most needed – not just because it is more practical and economical to meet children in their everyday circumstances, but also, more profoundly, because it IS magic.
Theatre is always about transformation. Its capacity to transform a space of ordinariness and even crisis, into a place where the imagination is activated and unexpected possibilities unfold, is unique. It offers a moment in which children can experience powerful social change in action. Here they can see that change is possible. That magic can come from the mundane. That joy can be found even in the most deprived of spaces. The quality of a theatre experience that achieves this miracle is not less than one which allows us to take flight in a specially designed cocoon, with technology and design fully at our disposal. Of course, we do not for a moment deny the special experience that is so particular to the dedicated theatre space. But for children experiencing the daily assault of life in a warzone, for children living in far-flung rural villages, for children living in inner-city poverty, there have to be other options. And this kind of transformation can make a profound difference to their experience of the world.
As theatre practitioners focused on innovative practice in theatre for young audiences, we all need to ask how theatre can bring about truly transformational experiences –wherever it can find an audience – and to make these a reality.
So let us work together to Take a Child to the Theatre… And Take Theatre to the Child in 2018.