As part of the Focus Day on Theatre by Children for Children, held at Vrygrond Cultural Hub on Saturday, 21st May, 2017, Cristina Cazzola held a workshop entitled, Tips and tricks for engagement of teens in theatre.
Cazzola is Artistic Director of the Segni d’Infanzia (trans. Signs of Childhood) Festival in Italy, and her speech about her experience in this role gave her audience the opportunity to grapple with key issues within the field of Audience Development and Engagement. “Why do we want to infect [teenagers] with the theatre virus?”, she ponders. She suggests that, when we are speaking to teachers, we persuade them that theatre is didactic and that, when we are speaking to their mother or father, we persuade them that providing a child with access to the theatre is ‘part of being a good parent’. How though, she asks, do we persuade teenagers directly?
This approach of marketing directly to teenagers is very much the driving philosophy of Cazzola’s work. She suggests that the most valuable theatrical experiences happen when teenagers visit a theatre space in their free time, under their own free will, and without pressure from their parents or school.
For teenagers to be engaged, she advocates for Theatre Programmers to really listen to what experiences their young audiences want. Teenagers are neither adults nor children, Cazzola reminds us, “so what type of theatre is more appropriate?” She goes on to suggest that, “what you think is fun most of the time, is not fun for them”, and also warns that most adults only hear what they want to hear, without being genuinely receptive to new ideas.
Another tip is not to lose sight of the way your audience demographic is changing. Citing her own experience of developing a Festival over 6 years, she warns that by the time she felt confident in developing meaningful dialogue with her teenage audience, many of them had already grown up to become young adults.
Finally, she suggests another way to convince teenagers into Theatre attendance is to transform their role from being just passive spectators into a position of a more active audience member. As an example, she proposes giving voice to teenagers through giving them a role as Theatre Critics in a Festival.
Overall, this session offered a lot of food for thought – particularly about how Programmers can engage in a dialogue with teenage audiences in a way that has both sufficient breadth and depth. Engagement Managers doing this effectively, Cazzola argues, can not only develop a rich and engaged teenage following but may also have an enormous impact on the development of adult audiences in the future.