By Yvette Hardie, President of ASSITEJ
Since we launched our World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People campaign, which leads up to the 20th March, with the slogan #Takeachildtothetheatre, much has changed. For many children in many parts of the world it is not practical, possible or advised to take children to the theatre, and many children will be spending days indoors, shuttered away in their own homes, without opportunities for connection or for stimulation beyond what the television can provide.
But spare a thought for those children who do not have comfortable homes to which they can be sequestered, who do not have parents with resources to provide them with televisions, books, lego sets, gardens or pets to keep them occupied. Children whose daily reality is a single room shared with many others, with very few personal belongings to call their own. Children without access to running water to wash their hands as often as is recommended, and certainly no access to expensive hand-sanitisers. Children, who are not going to be able to learn from home through online means, as they have no access to the internet. Children whose only secure meal comes from the school which will now be closed for a period of time. And of course, while their health is less likely to be adversely affected by the pandemic than those of their parents and grandparents, who will be looking after them if their parents and grandparents fall ill or die as a result of complications from Covid-19? And less dramatically, but as importantly, families whose lives depend on the earnings of someone on daily wages, who, if laid-off or told to stay home, will have no resources to fall back on under lengthy quarantine-like conditions.
The solutions the so-called developed world is finding to face Covid-19 are not always replicable in many countries and contexts. The challenges can be even more intense.
In this time, we need to call on the qualities that theatre (and other art forms) can cultivate in us, – those of compassion and empathy. More than ever, we need to think about our neighbours, our communities and those with access to the least. We need to match our energies and efforts to what is responsible, what is caring, what is appropriate to our conditions and situations, wherever we may be.
And we need to call on finding every ounce of creativity! Instead of taking a child to the theatre, we can read a play aloud, act out scenes at home, create opportunities for imaginative play with whatever is at hand, and where we can use or add to the vast and growing online resources of theatre and arts experiences, to do so. These may include mother tongue storytelling and book reading, videos of productions, animated movies, creative arts workshops with everyday resources etc, and ASSITEJ will be creating an online resource of these as we go, so we call on all our members to contribute to this.
Let’s remember that the quest to #Takeachildtothetheatre is not a once-off request, dependent on a single day. This is part of an ongoing, global campaign to give more children everywhere access to meaningful artistic experiences. Let our 20th March 2020 be about getting this message out to all who need to hear it.
And let Covid-19 be a comma in a sentence in the story of humanity’s fundamental need for and engagement with the arts that will continue to unfold ongoingly.