It is five years since we started the #Takeachildtothetheatretoday campaign, which is celebrated in many places around the globe on and around the World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People, 20th March. This campaign has offered ASSITEJ members a strong space for advocacy, and with the campaign has come many compelling reasons, contained in messages, speeches and articles, arguing for why children and young people should be exposed to theatre.
These reasons include: the rights of children as cultural citizens; the fact that theatre educates holistically though fostering multiple intelligences; the importance of cultivating curiosity, imagination and joy in children; the need for children to have hope in an often confusing and desperate world; the importance of aesthetic awareness and a capacity to embrace the diverse languages of the arts; the need for community, connection and empathy; the present-now-ness of theatre and its capacity to allow us to confront and question the world as we experience it; the urgency of embracing a diversity of views…
But I wonder if there isn’t another, more fundamental, reason why artists make work for young audiences, that goes beyond these stated intentions.
This reason may be far more deeply personal. In making work for children and young people, we are able to nurture, to heal and to strengthen the inner child in ourselves.
When a group of South African township-based youth started to work on a play for very young children, they discovered that making the work required that they nurture, rediscover, or in some cases, discover for the very first time…the innocence, the tenderness, the vulnerability, and potential wholeness within themselves. This began a profound healing process for these young artists which deeply affected them and which has motivated them to continue exploring in the field.
From this deep personal need, we then in turn are able to influence others. By nurturing ourselves into greater wholeness, we are able to enter into a more whole relationship with our audience. We are also able to offer parents and children, families, teachers, care-givers and their charges, opportunities to see the world through the eyes of the youngest amongst us.
So often I have heard some variation as I leave the theatre of a parent saying, “I couldn’t believe that my child could sit still for so long”, or “that my child found so much humour in that play”… in these moments of discovering who that child really is, theatre artists may in turn be contributing to greater wholeness in these fundamentally important relationships.
Perhaps the greatest gift that theatre for children and young people can give us – whether we are an artist, audience member, parent, teacher or child – is the gift of finding wholeness in brokenness, and rediscovering who we were always meant to be.