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For goodness sake take theatre for young audiences seriously

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Maybe one day things will have changed for the better and I shan’t have to say this – again. But I’m not holding my breath so here goes.

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.

There is wonderful, challenging innovative work going on at venues such as the Unicorn Theatre which has just won the TMA UK award for the best children’s show for Mr Halgado), Polka,
Half Moon, the Egg in Bath, Little Angel Theatre whose Macbeth has left me with such a buzz I can still feel it a fortnight later – and many more.

And what about touring companies such as Oily Cart  with its extraordinary (unique?) work for children with disabilities, Catherine Wheels, M6, 20 Stories High, Oddsocks – and dozens of others? Many styles, many approaches and many philosophies, but almost all good work.

And yet, although I see high quality professional work for young audiences all the time, it is unusual to see a mainstream national newspaper critic there. As with children’s books, on the whole, newspapers seem to regard theatre for young audiences as, literally, beneath their notice as if it were an inferior genre.

It most certainly isn’t. Much of it is as good, if not better, than much of what passes for adult theatre, especially given the challenging budget constraints that beset most of these companies.

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.

Attitude is the hardest thing to change but I’m not going to stop trying.

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