The three seminars which I attended at the Conference of the International Theatre for Young Audiences Research Network (ITYARN), unpacked interesting research on themes such as diversity, inclusion, intercultural exchange and gender. Not only did the seminars engage with these subjects theoretically, they also looked at the practice behind this research – particularly how these themes are constructed and communicated on stage. Each seminar was, of course, directed towards engaging with, and enhancing, the voices of Young People.
Dr Julius Heinicke, Research Assistant in the Aesthetics of Applied Theatre at the Freie Universität in Berlin, asserted that “Intercultural social transformation is best achieved when embedded into the Arts.” Whilst it is true that Theatre, if created with the appropriate attention to detail, can foster a sense of unity, the Art-form must embrace rather than exclude difference. Spaces must be inviting to all, not ‘othering’ to some.
‘Candidness’ and ‘honesty’ were two motifs that were highlighted as crucial elements to devising Theatre, particularly when Young People are involved. Director of Theatre Education at the University of Northern Colorado, Professor Mary Schuttler, suggested that children’s outlooks may be more receptive and malleable to change compared with adults. She proposed, therefore, that Theatre-makers should feel especially daring, when working with Young People, to push the boundaries on emotive topics such as gender identity and fluidity. Through the pursuit of an honest and open dialogue, in which Young Audiences ask questions and think critically about the world they live in, there lies the possibility of fostering a sense of social responsibility, and a desire to provoke meaningful social change.
Michael Carklin, Principal Lecturer in Drama from the University of South Wales, suggests that Actors must seriously acknowledge the responsibility they hold in their communication with Young People. It is important not only to use Theatre in order to reflect the lived experiences of today’s Young People, but also to give them a sense of agency to explore their own understandings of the world, and to empower them to join, and redefine, the debates of our time.
One theme that seemingly ran across all presentations was the need to recognise how the experiences of today’s Young People may be dissimilar to those of Adults. It is important, therefore, to reflect on the balance that needs to be struck between Theatre-makers bringing experiences from their own childhood into their work, with those themes emerging directly from today’s Young People.