The Music Theatre for Young Audiences Network

Developing International Exchange Opportunities.

“What is Music Theatre For Young Audiences?” This was the question posed to the participants of a workshop aiming to plan the start of a new international Music Theatre Network.

Held at the Baxter Theatre, as part of the ASSITEJ Cradle of Creativity, the session was facilitated by members of the German delegation: Meike Fechner (ASSITEJ Germany), Angela Merl (Theater Bonn) and Johannes Gaudet (National Theater Mannheim). They explained that a national-level network has been fostered by ASSITEJ Germany over the last 8 years and works on “promoting access to Music Theatre for Young Audiences, strengthening awareness for this field in institutions such as Opera Houses, and on creating contemporary Music Theatre. The focus is not on defining what music theatre is or should be, but rather on leading an open discussion which includes everyone interested in the field.” This workshop in Cape Town was, therefore, an introductory examination of how such themes and questions might be translated for an international scale.

Happy New Ears, an international congress and festival held at the National Theater Mannheim during November 2016, was noted to be a “well documented source of inspiration with regards to current questions and experiments in Music Theatre for Young Audiences”.

At the workshop in Cape Town, we were able to hear Gaudet’s keynote entitled “Opening Ears” (the full text of which may be found here):

“It is out of the silence that sounds or tones can develop”

“[B]ackground music can be considered as the opposite of music as art. The purpose of music as art lies within itself. It demands our whole attention, it touches us deeply in our soul”

“Nothing sounds as it sounds. But everything sounds as you make it sound. Important is not that you hear, but what you are listening to and how you are listening to it”

The practical element of the workshop, facilitated by Gaudet and Merl, began by focusing on listening and hearing and then continued by examining the production of, firstly, distinct sounds and then “the collective production of music using voice, body and materials”.

The discussion throughout the workshop was lively, and was often focused on how Music interacts with other Performance elements. One participant, for instance, reflected that, “Good sound is good movement, and good movement is good sound.” A director in attendance admitted that he had limited knowledge or experience with Music. He explained that, in order to incorporate Music into his productions, “I see the music as a character” which needs blocking in just the same way his actors do.

In the final part of the workshop session, practical ideas for the international network were discussed. All participants were keen to share more information about the field between countries, and to work together to raise the profile of Music Theatre at Children’s Festivals. Greater exposure in ASSITEJ fora (such as the ASSITEJ Newsletter & Website, ASSITEJ Artistic Gatherings and ITYARN Conference) was sought.

Overall, the participants in this session developed a deep bond over their shared passion for Children and Young People’s Music Theatre. Indeed, the final report from this session powerfully concluded that, “Music theatre can benefit from international exchange and can be enriched by an understanding of diverse musical languages all over the world.”

An Applied Theatre Practitioner with experience in international Drama Education, Community Theatre and Theatre for Development, Chris’ ongoing research interests centre around the documentation of Community Performance practice for the purposes of monitoring & evaluation, advocacy and training. Recent projects include facilitating participatory documentation of Community Circus, Dance, Theatre and Storytelling practice in Ethiopia, South Africa and Zambia, documenting large conferences around the world, as well as conducting Impact Assessment studies for organisations in the UK and USA. His other work includes Arts-based Curriculum Development consultancy, as well as authoring other Evaluative Research projects.