Written by James Woodhams
My very simple answer to this question is: no. It’s called ‘Theatre for young audiences’ for a reason. Parents (and guardians, teachers etc) are an inevitable by-product of engaging with children who, of course, have to be chaperoned. But as an artist creating work for children, concerning yourself with adult perceptions defeats the object of the exercise. Young people need theatre for them, dedicated to them, and reflecting their own experiences.
Adults are the gatekeepers of children’s theatre. If a parent has a bad time at a show directed at young people, the chances of that same parent coming back to the same theatre, getting bored again and paying for the privilege, is unlikely. Companies, venues and producers want to encourage a returning audience, so often they create and programme work that really has both children and adults in mind. But to me, these are a separate type of show: a family show, the kind that dominates theatres at Christmas.
These productions are an important part of the arts ecology, but they are not examples of theatre for young audiences. I remember as a child seeing a show, hearing my parents laugh, and pestering them about the joke – I didn’t get it, it was aimed over my head. It frustrated me no end, distracted me for the rest of the production, and left a lasting impact that I clearly haven’t forgotten.
That doesn’t mean we need to patronise child audiences. They accept more than we give them credit for, and understand complex emotions, situations and yes, even jokes. But we do need to understand what’s at stake: by pandering to adults, we risk children completely disengaging from the production they’re watching. However, theatre for young audiences which truly retains the child as its focus is entertaining for everyone, parents and children alike.
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