‘Schools need the funding to bring in artists in residence and employ specialist teachers’
Before looking at what I hope can change in arts education and theatre, I want to remember what should not change: mission. The mission to democratise who makes, creates and shapes theatre and arts experiences. The mission to create culturally responsive learning environments in which children can thrive and grow. The mission to ensure that every child in every school can access live theatre performances and high-quality arts and cultural learning that respect and reflect their lived experience and heritage.
These are things that mattered pre-Covid-19, they matter now and they are the drivers that underpin the work of the artists, teachers and practitioners I am privileged to know and work with.
So, what can and should change? Here are my five wishes. They aren’t radical, some of them don’t require money, but they will make a difference.
The first is our relationship with schools, teachers and young people. Schools are, generally, brilliant. They are at the centre of their communities. They have a remit to engage with those communities. They are also complex; one size does not fit all. We need to listen to them to better understand their needs. I still hear too often that schools feel ‘done to’, because someone goes to them with a great idea as opposed to starting a dialogue out of which great ideas are co-created. That’s all we need to do. Listen and co-create.
Second, amplify the influence and voices of young people and communities. Every time I am in a session with young people, I see they have perspectives that are essential for us to listen and respond to. I would like to see every theatre with a youth board that represents the communities they serve, including primary-age children. Theatre leaders of the future can start growing from a young age. I would like to see more artistic and senior leadership teams in theatres consulting with young people to inform decision-making.
’There must be a fierce and forensic focus on young people who have been most disadvantaged by the effects of Covid-19’
Schools should have the funding to bring in artists in residence, employ specialist drama and arts teachers and take their students to see live performance at their local theatre.
There should be a financial support system for freelance artists and practitioners that means they have sustainable careers. This, in turn, means that more of them can bring their creative brilliance into arts education work. When I started out, there was a thing called the Enterprise Allowance Scheme that paid me a basic salary every week for a year and meant I could risk forming a theatre company and touring work out to schools and communities. That first foothold made everything that followed possible.
Finally, there should be a fierce and forensic focus on young people and communities who have been most disadvantaged by the effects of Covid-19. Research is already making clear that the mental well-being of young people is being disproportionately affected compared with the general population. I believe that theatre arts have a significant role to play in the recovery curriculum and in supporting our young people to creatively find their place and voice in a new world.
Theatre is in dire straits, and in urgent need of support. We all hope that help is on its way from the government. But whatever support it receives, when theatre re-emerges from this disastrous pandemic, it will look very different. Now is the time to think about what happens next. That is what The Stage has asked people working across our sector to do: to select an issue that can be improved upon when theatre returns. The above article is one of 24 pieces in our ‘Theatre 2021’ series. There are many more topics to cover, and many more ideas to share. This series of articles is the first step in saying that despite this terrible crisis, theatre in 2021 can re-emerge, and in many ways can be better than before.