ASSITEJ International has celebrated this day on the 20th March since 2001, and since 2012, we have themed the day with the slogan “Take a Child to the Theatre Today”. This has been a rallying call for action to increase artistic access for children and young people and to draw attention to the responsibility of the gatekeepers, sponsors and ticket-purchasers in ensuring that young audiences experience the power of the arts.
However in this topsy-turvy year, where the world as we knew it has stopped turning in its old orbits, and so much has changed for artists, for theatres, for festivals, for families, for schools, and of course most importantly for children and young people, it seems that we can no longer say “Take a child to the theatre today” with the same assurance as before.
This is not because the arts or theatre are any less important – indeed if what our message writers have to say is true, they are more important than ever – but rather that the mechanisms for sharing this experience have had to change and adapt.
So this year, on the World Day for Theatre for Children and Young People, I want to celebrate the extraordinary wealth of talent, of creativity, of resilience, of adaptability, of sheer doggedness and determination, which have seen artists finding new ways to meet their audiences this year.
They have told stories live on Facebook with interaction through live chat; they have created recorded or live-streamed interactive experiences for children to enjoy at home; they have played theatre in gardens, parks, driveways, and on the other side of windows; they have turned living rooms and bedrooms into magical spaces to be mapped and discovered, engaging the sensory imagination; they have converted youth labs online and created online libraries of videoed theatre resources; they have turned to everyday technology like the phone and ventured into Whatsapp, Tiktok and Instagram; they have sent theatre experiences in the mail, through posted packs, with creative tools aplenty; they have supported at-home learning; they have created about the pandemic and dreamt up and written the performances for when live contact is permitted again; they have taken online their festivals, play-readings, holiday camps and workshops; they have lobbied and advocated, marched and petitioned; they have stood together. They have build community solidarity by taking art to the streets. They have demonstrated their innate creativity in a myriad of ways.
So as we venture together into the “unknown future”, we ask all those who care that children and young people have access to the extraordinary imaginative wealth that the arts can bring them, to keep finding new ways for theatre and young audiences to re-encounter one another. For one thing is certain, theatre is more necessary than ever. In theatre we re-connect, making space for healing. We re-imagine, re-align and resist. We remember and re-member our common humanity.
And it is the artist in each of us that makes this possible.
ASSITEJ: President 2011 – 2021