Being part of ASSITEJ has opened up a world of approaches to theatre and the meaning it has for a young audience.
Recently I witnessed a theatre room of very small children intent on the same moment before them – a wordless performance involving time passing, melancholy and ducks. The children were together in the experience but also completely individual in their response. There in front of me was a human being’s ability to let go of self and engage with the universe. It was visible proof of the magic that occurs through an audience’s imagination to transform reality.
There is a great ASSITEJ campaign called Take a Child to the Theatre which reminds us that children do not go to the theatre of their own volition; they have to be taken and this only happens if the adults around them think that it’s important. In a child’s life, adults choose for them and decide for them in matters ranging from the most trivial to the most life threatening. The powerlessness of children is a fact that affects their cultural citizenship.
When a person experiences theatre they are within a live event that involves the senses, the emotions and the imagination as well as a kind of contract of belief. For a time our own reaction and opinion matters most and it is a private experience as well as a shared one. It is a reminder of the power of our own thoughts and of the central, strong place within every individual that remains their own. The artist’s intention is one thing, what the audience receives is another.
The nature of theatre; subjective, nuanced, intangible – is one of the things that enables human beings to realise their individual power of expression and belief. The private world of experience is the strength within us all no matter our knowledge or expertise…my thoughts are my own
In many parts of the world, including my own country, adults are invested in control. Driven by anxiety about safety and fear of the world we live in, we deny our children physical freedoms we once had and we are inclined to fill every waking moment with interpretation and commentary.
Through theatre we have the chance to offer space and time to subjective experience and offer a place where the child’s power and sense of control is returned.
The theatrical transaction at its best draws this out no matter the age and to enable participation in theatre at any age, whatever the economic situation, whatever the ability, is a goal worth aiming for.
Our challenge as theatre makers is to have no need to adjust the realities or expectations of our audience but to provide the pathways for them to have the most powerful time of their lives.