Who creates this “childrens theatre”?

I have written a few times about bringing children to the theatre.  It’s a valuable field trip: theatres feel different.  They feel exotic.  Even when they’re well-used and run down.  But who creates theatre for children and how do you find it?

Not surprisingly, more and more professional companies are creating interesting, beautiful, and challenging works for children to see.  Just today, the UK Guardian (a country with a genetically inherited love of theatre!) put out a blog post about this very topic.

Performance is a way of ritualizing how we see the world, and it’s a way of playing. Children recognise and understand ritual and play on a very deep level, and that understanding can lead to an extraordinary synergy between the audience and the work.

And, although the author doesn’t really go into it, this statement really gets to the heart of theatre for children: synergy.  Children don’t just “see” a play, they participate in it.  They absorb the story in new and unexpected ways reacting both immediately and over time as they continue to process ideas.  The actors receive this feedback as the story unfolds; there are no secrets.

When I work with actors who perform for young audiences, one of my very favorite tasks is asking new actors about their experience because without fail he or she says something along the lines of, “I love that I know what they’re thinking right away.  I know if they like or hate what I do because they tell me.  I hear it.”  This give and take of story-teller and meaning-maker is what makes live theatre so exciting.  And it’s why theatre works so well within a classroom.

Children as performers experience this same synergy with their classmates, the audience members, and their teachers.  Their stories take on, shall we say, a life of their own.

But, we’ve forgotten: how do you find it?

You look.

Very hard.

The first step is to get on the mailing list of all the professional theatres in your region.  They often produce or host children’s theatres for limited engagements.  They don’t play for long, though, so you will need to be on top of things to know about them.  Some high schools and colleges also create children’s theatre.

This is a list of all the theatres that belong to TYAUSA, (Theatre for Young Audiences/USA) that may be useful.

Some national touring companies exist that will come into your school to perform.  If you decide to go this route, plan on visiting another school that is hosting the show before you commit.  Not all theatre is created equal and it is important to expose your students to the good stuff first.

Have fun!

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