As one of the characters in Lee Hall’s ‘The Pitman Painters’ says: “art is the place where you understand your whole life from.” If one single child is excluded from art, we are all the poorer for it.
In our role as an advocacy group for artists, venues and organisations in the theatre for young audiences sector we want to emphasise the importance of this specific form of theatre-making and outline why it is essential that it retains support in the difficult times ahead.
On the other side of this worldwide trauma we will all need to recover, children especially so. Some of them may not even be aware of what has happened but they will still have absorbed the grief, fear and anxiety that has coloured our last few months. The arts will be essential in helping them understand and process what has happened. Not just work about the crisis but any art work which will give them entertainment, solace, joy and insight. The arts heal us and they help us understand, our children will need this more than ever.
Children will also need to come together again after weeks of isolation. The theatre was one of the first of humanity’s communal rituals, a way that society can talk to itself. Despite more modern competition from screens, both big and small, theatre continues to speak directly to our spirit through embodied, human-sized storytelling. To be present with our peers to engage with these stories is essential to our society. We must reinstate this practice for our children as quickly as possible.
We would also emphasize that the digital dissemination of work is no replacement for live theatre and also poses a present barrier to access for the sector. For our audience, digital devices aren’t readily accessible due to childrens’ age, the equipment’s cost, the fact adults may need to monopolise them for work and the reluctance of many of us to overexpose young people to screens.
Theatre for young audiences is not a niche genre that can be dispensed with in the economic recovery ahead. That it is an essential part of all our lives is a recognition that has been hard won. The success of Ireland in a Cultural Spotlight at this year’s International Performing Arts for Youth festival in America is a testament to international recognition and respect for the work. Ireland’s status as a champion of theatre for young audiences is in a position to grow and this opportunity cannot be lost. As the National Campaign for the Arts puts it, the arts are a necessity not a luxury. While this is true for adults it is essentially so for children.
Let us continue to invest in theatre for young audiences with clear-eyed recognition of its value as a sector and also of its real monetary costs. Let’s be courageous enough to find new ways to perform the truth beautifully, for all our futures.
Theatre for Young Audiences Ireland Committee (a member of ASSITEJ International)