Here at pocketnannies we love taking children to the theatre. It’s a great activity to share, and we always come out with a smile on our faces and excited children. But there’s more to it than that.. which is why we got in touch with Samantha who is Artistic Director of Little Angel Theatre in Islington. She’s kindly written this post for us today – on her introduction to children’s theatre as a young adult, and why she believes children’s theatre is so important.
My first ever theatre experience was a theatre-in-education show called “Too Much Punch for Judy” which came into my secondary school. I was 15. I cannot tell you the name of the company, or give you a detailed summary of the story (other than the fact that it had a hard-hitting message about drink driving) but I can tell you that it had a profound impact on me. I was immediately transported into another world from the moment that it began. The play used physical theatre, interspersed with naturalistic scenes (if I remember correctly, using verbatim text as it was based on a true story), and was told by 4 actors with only 4 chairs and minimal props. Within minutes, I had tears streaming down my face – I felt a deep empathy for the characters on stage as if it were real. I can remember thinking, ‘how can something that has 4 actors playing multiple roles with no real set and minimal props, performed in my school hall alongside the dinner ladies clanking about in the kitchen preparing lunch, move me so much?’ It was then, that I understood the power of theatre – its ability to take you to a whole new world, to make you feel and think, and, above all, to entertain and inspire.
I know I may be a little biased (I studied theatre at university and now run Little Angel Theatre, a dedicated children’s theatre), but I do think it is concerning how few children actually experience live theatre before they go to school, and only then if they are lucky enough to go to a school that places value on theatre experiences. But what about those who never get to appreciate its power? Theatre not only entertains and enchants the audience, it fires the imagination, giving children the skills, curiosity and creativity that they need to understand the complex world we live in – even STEM experts (science, technology, engineering and maths) are now championing the importance of the imagination and the arts. You may have the skills to build a skyscraper, but if you are unable to imagine that skyscraper in the first place, how do you even begin?
Before children I would go to see theatre – adult theatre – at least once a week. Now, as a working mum who is time poor, and bound by the constraints of baby sitters (both a logistical and financial headache) I rarely see anything made for adults. Instead, I take my kids to the theatre and we enjoy it together. Over the last 10 years (that’s the age of my eldest daughter; my youngest being 7) I have seen an awful lot of work for young children. You could argue that that is part of my job – you don’t run a children’s theatre without seeing work for children – which is true, but I didn’t run a children’s theatre for the first 6.5 years of my eldest daughter’s life (prior to working at Little Angel, I made work by, with and for teenagers) but I still saw a lot of work for children because I no longer had time to see adult work, and after my very first visit I was hooked.
And why? Because I witnessed first-hand the power that theatre had on my children too. They were much younger than me the first time that they went to the theatre – partly because of my interest, but also because of the abundance on offer in London), but it was immediately obvious that they were completely transfixed – I could see them being transported into the world on stage and the minds of the characters. As a parent, I found a new joy in theatre – the joy of enjoying them enjoying theatre. Our theatre trips always result in a great deal of post-show reflection – usually on the tube. In the early days this was usually a monosyllabic response that told me whether they liked it or not, but sometimes it was more complex and helped them to understand and recognise the characters’ emotions as well as their own; but as the years have passed, their reflection has become much more sophisticated critiquing both narrative and form (they’ve seen a lot!) Their ability to discuss and dissect a show has developed their language and communication skills; and on top of that, I witness their independent creative endeavours at home – my eldest through making things and my youngest through role play; but both so clearly influenced by the theatre they have seen.
We are living in an age where the pressures on children and young people are perhaps greater than they have been at any time since the Second World War, and so it is more important than ever that we raise a generation who can use their heads to solve problems, but can also use their imaginations. In a digital age, it is also important to give children live experiences. Theatre cultivates curiosity, empathy, literacy and courage. If we get more children watching and enjoying theatre, arguably they are more likely to become adults equipped with the skills to understand the world we live in and perhaps change it for the better – to bring stories and people, from all walks of life, together.
Just like adults, children have the right to smart, relevant cultural experiences. Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states: “Every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” As the leader of an organisation that creates work for children, I feel strongly that theatre can enrich their lives. It is more than about creating the artists and audiences of tomorrow – it is about giving children rich and rewarding experiences right now – experiences that inspire and challenge – because, as a mother, I know that it makes a difference.
Thank you Sam for writing this piece. We’ve worked with Little Angel Theatre before and have been so impressed by their shows for children. (In fact the last one I saw without children and throughly enjoyed it, despite having no children with me). If you’d like to take a look at the Little Angel Theatre’s latest shows pop over to their website here.