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Children's Theatre

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Theatre is for Everyone

I read a Billboard article by Nicole Pajer that explained the new trend of ‘sensory-friendly’ shows. While Pajer started out by illustrating the use of these shows by children’s vocalists, she also explained that there have been movie showing, and live theatre performances that serve the same purpose. The purpose being to make these viewings accessible for children with autism.

 

Pajer explained that children with autism can often find the experience of going to a concert overwhelming, and the changes that are made in a ‘sensory-friendly’ performance are all targeted towards making everyone feel as comfortable as possible. The audience lights are kept on so there is no discomfort in the dark, strobe lights are often not used, and the volume is lower. At on of the concerts Pajer described, ushers were instructed to allow children to move about the aisle as much as they wanted, giving them the opportunity to engage and express themselves physically is they wanted to.

 

The concept of including everyone is one that has been explored more and more in the theatre community today. There was a pretty well publicized production of Spring Awakening by a deaf cast, done in American Sign Language a few years ago. I think the idea that theatre should be for everyone is a very important one. Indeed, it’s one that goes hand-in-hand with the idea that children are smart, and should be treated as though they have the sophistication to handle more complex plots and ideas.

 

Theatre is a tool for storytelling, and as I’ve said before, it can be a voice for the people, and that means everyone should have the chance to share in the theatre-going experience. Ideally, I would like my productions to offer a few ‘sensory-friendly’ performances, and accessible facilities, when I reach a point where the infrastructure required is a possibility. However, a more immediate idea is that of classes, learning and creating experiences for children that may have some kind of disability. All children have the ability to tell stories, those all those modes of storytelling might be different. I am now interested in learning what kind of techniques exist for leading children with any kind of disability through the act of creation and play through theatre.

Voices of the Future

It was interesting to read an article from the point of view of someone who has worked in the industry I intend to enter into. Teresa Erying explains that she worked as managing director for Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, which opened her eyes to the possibilities of children’s theatre.

Erying also mentioned the growing market for children’s theatre, which is, of course, encouraging. However I was most excited to read her examples of shows that combine multiple art forms, and give the opportunity for an immersive experience.

Even more important than recognizing that children can be engaged at a higher lever, which was touched upon in my last post, I think acknowledging the creative power of children has even more possibilities.

Stepping beyond the idea of something like audience participation, I think giving creative opportunities to children, giving them the chance learn collaboration and imagination, will create not just an audience for the future, as Erying hopes, but artist for the future. Without going down the dark, depressing road of our current events, we can all acknowledge that our world is not exactly flourishing at the moment. While I think it will take many kinds of people to solve our wicked problems, and many of them are not artists, the need for the arts remains. Artists act can act as the voice of the people, making social issues more visible through performance and creation. Children have the ability to grow into adults with loud voices, if they’re given the chance to speak out from a young age.

What? Children have brains?

This article entitled: The Renaissance in Children’s Theatre explains the feelings of the general public towards stereotypical children’s theatre, and the way it is often perceived as cheesy and lackluster. I never realized that the phrase “children’s theatre” had such a negative connotation. I suppose I must be one of the lucky few with high-quality children’s theatre at my nearest convience from several sources.

The article explains that there is not a lot of children’s theatre available throughout the country that moves beyond those outdated stereotypes, and into a more engaging and modern realm. Good news for me.

I was particularly amused to see the title of a play When I Grow Up, I’m Gonna Get Some Big Words. I was excited to see that more intellectual children’s theatre is becoming more popular. I often compare the television shows I watched as a kid to those my peers watched and wonder when children’s entertainment became so low brow. Not that I Love Lucy is the height of intelligent discource, but it certainly has more depth of story telling than something like Sponge Bob. I can certainly see how the same thing could be true in children’s theatre. Pandering to children will never make them smarter, it means they don’t have to work to understand anything, which gives them no opportunity to expand their minds.

My own ideas for a children’s theatre seem more feasible in a world that accepts the more imaginative and innovative children’s works described in the article. I have long said to people that I haven no interest in mounting more productions of The Music Man Jr. Hopefully I can combine the idea of children’s intelligence mentioned earlier in the article, with the lighthearted and magical ideas of Minneapolis’ show: Starry Messenger about Galileo.

It was certainly comforting to hear that children’s theatre is a growing market. Phew! Maybe I won’t be a starving artist forever. The idea of at least a steady income is something no one should turn their nose up at, especially if the possibility of fulfilling some life-goals comes right along with it.

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