What does it mean for a child to enter into a creative encounter, to be invited in to a new arts experience? Why is this so important for every child?
I had the privilege recently of hearing Yo-Yo Ma, the great cellist, speak and play and he referred to what he calls Cultural hospitality. He sees this as the capacity (and indeed the obligation) of the arts to welcome what is new, innovative and out the box, what is marginalised, unheard, and ignored… In his view, it is our task as artists to be hospitable to these voices, forms and techniques, and in the process to allow ourselves to be changed.
It reminded me of what it means to be a host and what it means to be a guest. And one of the most important elements on both sides is the quality of listening, of willingness to step outside of what is known and comfortable, and to embrace and celebrate difference.
The great host is the one who makes everyone feel at home, regardless of where they come from or what their experiences might be. It is the one who puts their ego aside out of genuine interest in this person who has come to visit. It is the one who wants to give everyone the best possible experience. The great guest is the one who comes with boundless curiosity to the encounter, wanting to learn about the other, not afraid to try something new.
In this space of mutual receptivity, we find connection, we find surprise and we find deep learning. We leave these encounters changed. We have touched what makes us human, in ourselves and in others…
This is the precious moment the arts give us. As theatre artists we need to find ways to invite children and young people into these encounters with a generous spirit, desiring to listen to the audience as much as we want them to listen to us.
And when this happens, then we feel the connection start to grow… we find common ground, we see the big picture, we have flashes of insight and we feel that flush of shared feeling we call empathy. We have a sense that we matter, that others matter, that what we are exploring together, matters.
In this age where more and more people are being shunned, turned away at borders and airports, rejected because they come from a different class, ethnicity, language group or religion, it is the artist who has the capacity to provide a sense of belonging, of connection.
And every child needs that.