Research Material in TYA
This section will offer links to key policy documents and information sources supporting studies of the origins and development of specialist theatre for young audiences, particularly in the UK.
The UK came late to the idea of public funding for the arts and for theatre in particular. The Arts Council of Great Britain was created in 1946, principally to find a way to support the elite art forms of the day, such as opera, classical music and ballet. Governments were at first reluctant to be drawn into engagement with cultural policy. The interests of artists came before those of the general public, or any section of the public. It was not until the 1960’s that a Labour Government began the process of ‘democratisation’ of the arts, following a number of local Councils which already supported theatres, galleries and museums. At the same time, developments in education policy encouraged artists to go into schools to support a broad range of educational objectives. Teachers generally regarded cultural experiences as important to ‘the education of the whole child’.
In 1965, a British drama adviser established with fellow members of the International Theatre Institute a new international body to encourage development of theatre especially created for young audiences, known by its French acronym; ASSITEJ. The founder members included UK, France, Russia and Czechoslovakia, countries with different approaches to the aims and practice of theatre.
In the UK, the Arts Council has over the years produced a number of initiatives, reports and policies with changing emphasis. A key policy document supporting specialist theatre for young people appeared in 1986. For a period in the 1960’s Arts Council had a special committee to oversee funding for regional producing theatres to create productions and programmes for young audiences, but this was later abandoned. The very concept of a ‘specialist theatre for young people’ was challenged by influential figures in the theatre world as encouraging a ‘poorer form’ of theatre to be produced for children. By the 2000’s, however, Arts Council England supported many arts organisations dedicated to serving specific audiences and required all organisations it funded to provide education programmes and to have Boards of Management representative of all sections of society. Current policy stresses ‘excellence for all’.
UK artists working in theatre for young audiences have been divided over the years since public funding became available and the associaitions they formed reflect those difference of emphasis.
Those working without public subsidy were naturally obliged to create and present what could please a paying public – parents who took their children to a theatre or teachers who invited a show into their school. Those in the public funding sector found their local authority supporters mostly within education departments and there was encouragement to use theatre in support of educational oobjectives, to teach through theatre rather than teach about theatre. The Theatre in Education (TIE) sector quickly became a ‘movement’ with wider social and even political objectives. Soon SCYPT (Standing Conference of Young People’s Theatres) became a lively developmental forum and the annual week of workshops, performances and discussions provided a strong sense of solidarity but also a platform for challenging debate and controversy. TIE drew heavily on the highly developed practice of Drama in Education, well established in UK schools from the1950’s, and to a great extent regarded theatre practice in other countries as irrelevant.
CTA (Childrens Theatre Association) was set up to offer an alternative, less politically engaged forum and later merged with the British Centre of ASSITEJ. Today this association is known as TYA – UK Centre of ASSITEJ and seeks to balance developmental activity in the increasingly different contexts of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland with active engagement in international exchange and collaboration.
Paul Harman, 27 August 2012