What is different about working creatively on a children’s show?

Written by James Woodhams

Children’s theatre is essential – I have been over this in my last two blogs. But how does working creatively on a children’s production differ to working on shows aimed at adults?

Different theatre makers will have different answers, but with my approach, a lot of things stay the same. My interactions with most of the company, for example, are very similar. I prioritise lightness of theatre, which to my mind basically equates to ‘play’. If I can, I ask the writer for changes, encourage them to take risks, try to understand each decision that they have made. I am the same with the production team, asking them to explain choices and working collaboratively with them to achieve our joint vision. On the face of it, things are pretty similar.

I think what differs is the mindset. There is always something at the back of your mind reminding you that this thing is for kids. For me, this is incredibly liberating. With children, I strongly believe you can be more creative, imaginative and engage in so many different ways than maybe you can do with adults, who have the potential to be fairly stuck in their ways when it comes to their own taste and what theatre can and should be.

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Filskit Theatre rehearsing Breaking The Ice

But how do you know what young people like? You were a young person once, but that was a long time ago. It is now pretty standard, thank goodness, to invite children in to see a show throughout rehearsals. This can be the most invigorating part of the creative process – listening to their thoughts and responses, and gaining amazing feedback, can push a show forward without the young audience even knowing they are helping you. If anything, I wish that the creative process had even more of this type of engagement and reflection with children.

Even though young people might be at the heart of the creative process, that all changes once a show is made. You have to remember that you are ultimately advertising to adults. This I think is one of the key issues for any TYA (theatre for young audiences) practitioner: your target audience, unless they are in their teens, don’t have their own income. You are always playing to their parents. You have to, in essence, hoodwink them into buying tickets so your audience can see the show – playing up the elements that adults will like, and playing down those that they might not. The fun, imaginative and playful aspects of the piece will be emphasized, for instance, whereas you might gloss over sadder or scarier bits, even though these are often the moments the young audience like the most.

My approach clearly isn’t the only one, and I’d love to read any feedback, comments or advice. The arts work best when different people with lots of different ideas come together, so let’s start that here!

James is a Freelance Theatre & Film Director. He is a lover of Theatre for Young Audiences, and would like to specialise in this field. He currently is studying an MA in Theatre for Young Audiences at Bath Spa University. Follow him @JCWoodhams

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