PUTTING CHILDREN FIRST
The recent Conference of Action for Children’s Arts – PUTTING CHILDREN FIRST – came up with a depressing statistic. Although 15% of the population are children of 12 years and under, only 1% of arts funding is spent on them. Ironically, many subsidised theatres spend more on their education departments (excellent things in themselves) than on the creation of productions aimed at children. Surely children deserve, indeed are entitled to, a bigger slice of the cake.
The commercial sector, however, seems to recognise the value of children’s theatre, both as a vital contribution to audience development and also as an integral part of programming. The sector is growing all the time. More touring productions, more shows for schools and families, and more theatre practitioners eager to enter the field as a career rather than as a step on the ladder towards adult theatre.
Take the West End. If you had told me ten years ago that in 2012 it would have become common place to find summer seasons of children’s shows, I wouldn’t have believed you! Yet this summer HORRIBLE HISTORIES is at the Garrick, DORA THE EXPLORER is at the Apollo, THE GO! GO! GO! SHOW is at the Empire, Leicester Square, PRIVATE PEACEFUL is coming to the Haymarket, and my own production of THE TIGER WHO CAME TO TEA is at the Lyric.
Add to these THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE at Kensington Gardens, HAIRY MACLARY AND FRIENDS at the Riverside Studios and THE BOY WHO FELL INTO A BOOK at the Soho Theatre, and it becomes clear that children’s theatre has become a significant part of the London scene. This is mainly thanks to the vision of Nica Burns, who has enthusiastically welcomed children’s shows into Nimax Theatres, on top of long running adult shows.
And, of course, there are long running family shows like THE LION KING, MATILDA, SHREK and WAR HORSE, all of which make children welcome. The demand is there.
So why is public arts funding so small when it comes to small people? Why don’t national arts organisations spend more on children? Why is the Arts Council unwilling to earmark subsidy to be spent on work for children? Why does the BBC spend so little on children’s programmes? Do we, as a nation, have negative values towards our children? I think it was Ethel Merman who said that we spend the first three years of a child’s life teaching them to walk and talk, then spend the next few years telling them to sit down and shut up.
Action for Children’s Arts is now campaigning for children to receive a fairer proportion of budgets and grants. For more details, please visit www.childrensarts.org.uk.
David Wood, July 2012
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