Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

Agor Drysau 2005

Jeremy Turner looks ahead to the 2005 festival

It's likely that most people associate the idea of children's theatre with pantomime; but despite its popularity, the annual romp is not the only form of theatre seen by young audiences in Wales. Many of our children and young people regularly experience live, contemporary and well crafted theatre in their schools; indeed, it's likely that many young people in Wales see far more professional theatre than do their parents.

For instance, last year Arad Goch theatre company, based in Aberystwyth performed its theatre-in-education work to over 10,000 children in schools in West Wales, and other productions to a similar number of children and young people in theatres and arts centres across Wales. As Wales has eight companies specialising in presenting theatre-in-education (TiE) (each based in one of the eight old counties) it follows that between 70,000 and 80,000 children and young people experienced at least one live performance in their school: no mean feat and one suspects that one or two of our 'national' companies would be overjoyed to be able to play to half that number each year. In addition, the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff produces and presents theatre to young audiences in its own theatre and on tour to other venues.

Why, therefore, is little mention made of this work publicly, in the media and press? Many of our magazines and newspapers in both languages thrive on Cardiff- or London-centric TV celebrity scandal and stardom; our monthlies and quarterlies are often tied up in heavy academic analysis and most of our English and Welsh radio programmes remain stuck up their own parochiality.

Over the last 30 years Welsh TiE companies have built close links with schools in their catchment areas and benefit from the willing co-operation of teachers. Response, which the companies actively seek, from teachers and pupils is honest - usually positive, sometimes critical - and the companies' ability and willingness to engage in a critical dialogue with their audiences has contributed to the success, development and growth of TiE in Wales.

The main funding source for this work is the Arts Council of Wales which, with the Assembly Government, recognised the importance of TiE in Wales in 2003 with a substantial and long overdue increase in grant aid to the sector . In addition many of our county councils (although, sadly, not all of them are as enlightened as the others) contribute financially to the work. But just as important as their financial contributions are the partnerships between the theatre artists and teachers and education officers; the co-operation between the two disciplines and the exchange of ideas, expertise and inspiration ensure the provision of theatre which is challenging, entertaining and educational; most importantly, theatre for young audiences rejects the glitz of the star system, putting the child and her or his situation, feelings, emotions, aspirations, fears and dreams right at the centre of the creative process.

TiE in Wales is part of a world network of theatre for young audiences which manifests itself in a number of organisations, one of which is ASSITEJ (l'Association Internationale du Théâtre pour l'Enfance et la Jeunesse - the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People). ASSITEJ functions to promote professional theatre for young audiences in some 80 countries; although the work differs greatly from country to country, many of the same problems are faced across the world - including the lack of profile and media coverage.

What unites members of ASSITEJ is their efforts to create and present theatre of the higest possible standard for the most important audience - children and young people. And this audience does have very high expectations; we hear sometimes, from a surprised adult who's just had his or her first experience of TiE "How did you get them to sit and watch for an hour?" And, as any teacher knows, the answer is obvious: "Give them something good, meaningful and you'll get a similar response". Of course the opposite is also true and in order to maintain a high standard TiE artists invest a lot of time in researching, devising, discussing and developing their work in order to understand the expectations and aspirations of their audiences.

With the increasing emphasis from the Assembly on national flagship companies the importance and demise of professionally presented community theatre goes un-noticed. Whilst many of our flagship companies and arts buildings could exist anywhere in Europe - so unrooted are they in anything to do with the contemporary bilingual society that surrounds them - TiE is one of the few professional cultural-social forms which, in its content and presentation, enables our young people to recognise and celebrate their own contemporary and special identity. The Assembly, in attempts to inspire greater cultural awareness of the here and now of Welshness, should take more note of the importance of contemporary, professional homegrown culture for young audiences. Without more local produce our national flagships will all too easily be filled with imported ballast.

Recently members of Arad Goch, as they got out of the company van on a secondary school carpark, were greeted by pupil: " Hi, I used to see you in my junior school; you're our company aren't you!" And that 'our-ness' is at the core of TiE across Wales.

And where can you big people see part of "their" theatre?

Next week Arad Goch stages the 4th AGOR DRYSAU - OPENING DOORS Wales International Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences: 49 performances of 20 production from Wales and abroad in Aberystwyth; 22 performances by the foreign companies all over Wales; and as if that wasn't enough almost every day of every term their - our - your companies are performing in a school near you.
Give us a call: as our media won’t tell you much, come and see for yourselves!

The TiE companies in Wales are: Cwmni Theatr Arad Goch, Cwmni'r Fran Wen, Theatr Powys, Clwyd Theatre Cymru, Spectacle Theatre, Theatr Iolo, Theatr Gwent, Theatr na n'Og.

Jeremy Turner is the Artistic Director of Cwmni Theatr Arad Goch, the Director of AGOR DRYSAU - OPENING DOORS Wales International Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences, a member of the Arts and Young People in Wales Task Force, and a member of the Executive Committee of ASSITEJ International.

author:Jeremy Turner

original source: The Western Mail
11 March 2005


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