How do we encourage artists to make extraordinary work for young people? How we encourage artists to aspire to magic? These were some of the questions debated by Mike Kenny, Lyn Gardner, Tony Reekie, Kate Cross and Vicky Ireland at the recent Small Steps symposium at The Point in Eastleigh. This event initiated by Jenny Roberts and Sarah Brigham, aimed to lay the foundations for creating and touring high quality work for children and young people in the South East region. Mike Kenny, who has been writing plays for young people for a while began with a few provocations;
- “A traditional tale is not a guarantee of quality”
- “I’m not asked to take enough risks.”
- “Programmers, I need you to be really picky.”
How do we balance this against the commercial pressures of getting bums on seats that a traditional tale appears to guarantee? How to replicate the phenomenon of White produced by Catherine Wheels? Not a traditional tale, not well-known title but a global success.
How do we encourage those excellent artists who may not think that children’s theatre is for them to make their most ambitious work for children? Inspector Sands are making their first piece of work for children. Their idea recently won the Southern region’s Sprout commission with Rock Pool, a participative semi-underwater performance described by the company as “a crustacean version of Waiting For Godot. For children.” Fresh eyes, innovation are good; but so too is experience. How do we share the learning and knowledge of those who have been working in children’s theatre for all their lives? And yet keep an open mind and not be bound by a sense of ‘this is the way it is done?’
It is important to keep asking the questions and challenging funders, programmers and artists to aspire to make extraordinary work for young people.
The best piece of work for young people I have seen recently was Pondlife McGurk written by Rob Evans and performed by Andy Manley. What made it so good? There was very little set, just finely crafted, humorous storytelling by a hugely engaging performer. A reminder of Peter Brook’s words.” A man walks across an empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed…”
The Arts council’s recently announced successful strategic touring applications are dominated by work for children. The Small steps symposium has brought together companies, artists and programmers in the South east to continue to advocate for authentic artistic ambition. It is great to hear about a network in the South west; it is an opportunity for shared learning. Imaginate in Scotland sets the bar high for a strong network. It includes a career infrastructure and an international outlook that attracts more professionals to the sector. Apart from financial resource, what do we need to make the networks flourish in England?Michael Judge has been involved in making theatre for, by and with young people for over twenty years; he is currently Learning at Arts Council England, these are his views and not necessarily those of his employer.