Young People and Performance in Australia and New Zealand

Article excerpt

Performance for and by young people in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand resonates with the diversity of these countries' Indigenous and immigrant cultures, regional and urban realities, and quirky view of the everyday. Having diverged from the traditions of European fairytale, the conventions of didactic educational theatre, and the floss of children's holiday entertainment, the leading work in this broad field places children and young people at the centre: as intelligent and critical audiences and as respected co-artists. As we outline in this brief overview, the related and changing sectors of theatre for young people and youth theatre in these countries provide opportunities for educational aesthetic engagement and emerging career development as well as platforms for young people to express the diversity of their contemporary experience.

Theatre for Young People

Theatre for Young People (TYP) chiefly developed as an antipodean response to British educational theatre models in the 1960s and 1970s and is driven by the desire to provide young audiences with aesthetic experiences that engage and inspire. From the 1960s on, UK expatriates like Barbara Manning, Roger Chapman, and David Holman brought theatre-in-education (TIE) practices to Australia through pioneering work with companies such as Salamanca in Hobart and Magpie Theatre in Adelaide. These companies and their schools-touring work were synonymous with progressive, good quality educational theatre. But Australian TYP never fully adopted the British model of group-devised TIE programs (although some of the work of Queensland's Kite Theatre may be a significant exception). Instead, as John O'Toole and Penny Bundy have discussed, educational TYP practitioners increasingly developed a 'writer's theatre' model: an approach which relies on extensive research about youth experience or curriculum issues and involves the shaping of scripts by commissioned professional writers - some associated with mainstage theatres and others specialising in young people's theatre. While still managing to suit the progressivist educational imperatives of the time, this approach placed one foot of TYP in the professional theatre industry and one foot in education. Writers worked with companies in a more-or-less standard professional company model to produce plays for young people to be performed both within and outside the school environment. New Zealand developments were somewhat different, in that they were not dependent upon English expatriates, although Dorothy Heathcote's influence was indirectly felt in theatre in schools during the 1980s. Educational TYP grew with 'Performers in Schools' (rather than production-based TIE) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while some companies doing in-schools work were identified as community theatre (in the Australian sense of that term).

Over the years, these developments in professional TYP in Australia were effected by the growth of sophisticated drama curricula in schools. By the late 1980s, touring educational theatre was no longer the main conduit for introducing young people to theatre and/or educating them through its forms and processes. Thus, the teaching of drama as a subject in its own right, which involved opportunities to attend theatre and to participate in theatre-making, overtook the importance of touring educational theatre. For TYP practitioners, however, this was not a totally disadvantageous development. Through the 1990s this latter aspect of theatre-making in schools - and the increasing body of Australian drama education research which supported it provided TYP with challenging new ways to look at its audiences and contributed to a discernable shift in the perception of children and young people as artists and critics in their own right. In or out of school, children and young people were being valued as aesthetically curious and innovative adventurers, and as discoverers of new ways of knowing the world. …


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