As a Theatre for Young Audiences Company, the theatre we choose to commission, produce and present must reflect the current state of the world in ways that youth can relate to and access. In many ways, the built in system of connecting with our audience directly must seem advantageous – for our school shows we have a tangible way to reach our demographic and have relationships that we work to cultivate and grow. The flip side to that advantage is that we have to convince the teachers, principals, school boards and parents (lovingly referred to as gatekeepers) why theatre, and particularly theatre for youth, is important. It is a constant job of advocacy, which we do in many different ways: tying the shows to the provincial curriculum so it becomes more than entertainment in the gatekeepers’ eyes; sending teaser videos for them to really understand the content and professionalism, because we are always more expensive than Bobo the Clown; and lowering our prices and/or offering free shows to those schools that have budget restraints or who need a little extra convincing. But all of those measures are worth it because when a child sits in their gym or auditorium and sees it transformed into another place, or when they see an actor in the play that looks or sounds just like them, or when they get to ask a question and actually get an answer during the Q&A, the magic of theatre descends on them. We have a responsibility to encourage and foster all the smart, critical, compassionate, kind, playful, spontaneous, questioning, and curious youth now. Because the alternative universe, where children have no outlet, or don’t see ways to advocate for themselves, or don’t question the status quo, is just too scary to contemplate.
We know theatre saves lives. And isn’t that the most incredible and awesome responsibility?