Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Do it well, but do it differently!

A Letter for the World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People (March 20, 2008)

Do it well, but do it differently!

That sounds interesting, I wonder… According to Theatre for Children and Young People, it's possible to tackle things in a different way. And now, I ask myself, what could possibly be different?

Theatre for young spectators is per se different. It defines itself by its target group, an audience that demands to be taken account of in the artistic process, in the production, distribution and reception.The themes it tackles don't have to be different from the usual ones seen in theatre for adults. You also don't need to create new theatre forms. And in no way should you be childish or infantile: or even try to do justice to what you think children might like. In other words, you shouldn't regard challenges as being different simply because you're playing to a special audience.

So tackling things differently must be meant in another way. Perhaps in the sense of the dictionary I always love to consult when I want to express myself precisely, when individual words are meant to say something, when I need an interpretation about what others might have meant or not. The first thing I read is the following definition: "abandoning an earlier individual characteristic and becoming fundamentally different." But that couldn't have been what was meant by changing things, could it? Doing something in another way than was previously planned or introduced, shaping it in another way, is a further variation of the discourse. Such an action would be remarkable, particularly in our case where planning plays a very important role, and is even postulated as being programmatic.

Perhaps it has more to do with the variety of meanings inherent in the concept. We should think in a different way! Not produce theatre from a literary basis, not make theatre dependent on the school curriculum, not reduce theatre to plays with a cast of one! Or maybe we should present our shows in another form of language? Theatre shot through with breathtaking choreography, theatre as a complex system of codes, or even inspirational theatre from abroad! Or should we make “being different” the basis for our work? Theatre based on article 1 of the Declaration of Human Rights: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights" – does this hold true for all people in the first, second and third world?! Theatre about intercultural dialogues, about national core cultures, about the things we have in common, about differences and how we master these challenges in our everyday life – or not?!

Theatre that understands itself as society in dialogue with itself, and therefore talks about finding identities in a period of globalisation. How much different do we have to be? When we are confronted by people who think and believe in different ways, when we meet other people with different characteristics, who are the reverse of what we are, or have completely different opinions. Cultural diversity is the theme being discussed at the moment by UNESCO. The Convention on the "Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions" came into power almost exactly one year ago, on the 18th of March 2007: it must however be lived out, it has to get to people and, for this reason be reflected in the theatre.

Children and young people know exactly what "tackling things in a different way" means. They have set out on their path through life and this will certainly not be straight ahead non-stop. They'll be forced to find their way out of dead ends, clear hurdles and make detours. Time and time again they will have to think and try out alternatives. Doing things another way could become a principle in life. The theatre can show that, the theatre can en-courage its audiences to be open to that, everything can be done differently in the theatre. In this sense, on the occasion of World Children's Theatre Day 2008, I should like to leave you all – artists, children and not least cultural politicians – with the following wish. Do it well, but do it differently!

Professor Dr. Wolfgang Schneider
President of the International Association of Theatre for Children And Young People

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