Is there space for a children's theatre in the north east?

Miranda Thain, 11 July 2012

Subtitle : Who is making theatre for young audiences in the region?

Convenor: Helen Green

Those in the discussion : Miranda Thain, Max Hook, Sarah Fanning, Amy Mitchell, Steven Gaythorpe, Kate Fox, Phil Douglas, Ben Ayrton, Theresa Threadgall, Hannah, Clarke-Stamp

Helen introduced the session and explained that she was interested in investigating whether there was a space for a dedicated theatre for children and young people in the region. She wants to develop a committed audience in Washington / Sunderland and finds that those over 30 and hard to reach and seem preoccupied with the past - she thought that building upon her already excellent programme of theatre for young audiences might be an opportunity for her venue.

Ben spoke of the lack of cohesion between theatre organisations in the region which leaves no space for young people to take genuine ownership. He feels that the UK has a strong tradition of making theatre for young audiences, but that those making work ‘by’ and ‘with’ did not get recognition and support.

Steven spoke of the support he has had from Theatre Royal in developing work with his young company Ingenius Theatre but that he felt work made by teenagers fell through the gaps in terms of funding and that scripts tended to be for large casts of men rather than women. Big venues always house young people's work within their education departments. He was also concerned about the lack of opportunities regionally for young people wanting to develop their practice and the ‘talent drain’ from the region due to this issue.

Miranda spoke of her frustration that so often programming decisions connected to theatre for young audiences were made by someone junior in the education department of even the largest theatres, that the work was programmed to sit on top of the ‘adult’ show on a Saturday morning with no get-in time, no pre-rig and with the Artistic Director of the venue rarely seeing the work. How was this going to communicate to young audiences that they are important and deserving of work of the highest quality? Why does this work always sit within ‘learning’?

Ben questioned whether the cultural shift required needed to come from the Bridge Organisation disseminating best practice and with pressure from ACE for organisations funded for Goal 5.

Theresa joined the conversation and Helen asked her how she thought the larger venues might feel about a specialist venue for CYP and whether that might pull resources from their education departments.

Theresa mentioned that the specialist CYP venue idea had been tried and failed by The Round in Newcastle a few years ago. It was acknowledged that the reasons for the failure were many and varied and didn't necessarily lie with a problem with the fundamental idea.

Theresa felt that success lies with shouting louder about the work and that we should all invest more time and money in promotion.

Amy said that the Bridge really could achieve significant things in terms of advocacy and profile in terms of CYP work regionally.

It was agreed that any single specialist venue should encompass the key elements of work for, by and with CYP as well as opportunities for young people as emerging artists.

Regarding youth theatre, discussion ensued about the quality of provision and the clout that franchised operations held in terms of marketing budgets and profile. A more artistically driven youth theatre work was not available to many young people (and there was often little or no provision in rural areas). Parents often default to franchised youth theatre (and also commercial theatre productions - Peppa Pig etc) because they didn't have confidence in judging quality and feared something that didn't have a commercial brand. Perhaps some programmers shared the same fear?

Theresa asked if the youth theatre offer would be improved by investment in a Northern Youth Ensemble.

The group discussed how to raise the profile of more ambitious youth theatre and whether Juice Festival had a role in engaging with those producers and providing platforms for the work to be seen.

Miranda commented that there was crucial work to be done in addressing the issues around the quality and profile of theatre for CYP and that venues, funders, artists needed to be engaged with this and the concerns about pigeon-holing all CYP work under education. This is a sector wide problem. Any specialist venue should be a flagship of excellence, developed with young people for young people.

If a venue of this kind wasn't achievable, could there be a way of badging and resourcing venues regionally who would sign up to a core commitment to CYP? How could this be made meaningful and be more than a branding exercise? Should the new North East Children's Theatre Consortium have a more pronounced advocacy role

In conclusion, the group felt that the discussion had been wide-ranging and had covered many issues that people felt of key importance that needed further discussion, namely;- should there be a specialist CYP focussed venue? Where are all the artists interested in making theatre for young audiences? How do we raise the profile of work by and with young people? How do we support emerging artists and give opportunities to develop their practice in the region?

The group decided that this topic was worthy of a D&D of its own and resolved to organise one within the region that would enable us to continue the conversation and extend it to anyone else who should be part of it.


children's theatre, Youth Theatre, childrens theatre, youth theatre, CYP, CYP venue, Bridge North East, young people, Bridge organisation, North East, Young People, children