Writing For Children

Alan Ayckbourn has long been an advocate of plays for children and attracting the next generation into our theatres with exciting and challenging works.

Although he has not had the opportunity to do so in recent years, between 1988 and 2004, Alan Ayckbourn was writing a play for families almost at the rate of one a year – as well as work for pre-school children.

This article, written in 2004 and later amended, explores why Alan Ayckbourn believes it is so important to provide plays and theatre for young people.

Writing for Children by Alan Ayckbourn

After thirty years writing exclusively for adults, it was only in 1988 that I began seriously to consider the prospect of creating something specifically for a younger audience.

I sensed a gap at the time that I felt badly needed addressing – namely, that there was precious little ‘serious’ theatre writing being done for younger children either for them to watch or to perform. Apart from any other consideration I became conscious, too, as the long serving artistic director of a regional company, that as a result of this neglect we were actively discouraging our future audience.

Alan Ayckbourn with Bollinger the cat in 1988 when he wrote his first family play Mr A’s Amazing Maze Plays (© Haydonning Ltd)

I set about trying to remedy this. Many years and more than a dozen plays for families and children later, I have had no regrets. Frankly, the rewards of such writing (when you manage to pull it off!) beat anything you’re ever going to get from the most elevated West End opening.

The theatrical act of live performance, that special moment of ‘now’ when live actor meets audience is unique in any circumstance; in children’s theatre it is intensified tenfold. They become almost tangible, those threads of trust woven between the two parties, as the performer presents, demands, persuades and cajoles the spectators, drawing them into the web of narrative and character which the author has created.

Yet this strength is also brittle. One false step in performance, one small, untruthful concession to the pre-established rules and all is lost – sometimes for ever. Quick curtain – home time.

Theatre, particularly amongst our national leaders all of whom are old enough to know better, has seemingly been dismissed as irrelevant to the upbringing of our bright young twenty-first-century high-tech children. I believe, on the contrary, that the reverse is true.

Live theatre is more, much, much more important than it has ever been. True, we have achieved technological miracles with the graphics and sound which fill all our screens – images that are sometimes literally jaw dropping. But in the end these are, after all, the finite imaginings of others not ourselves.

There isn’t, at the end of it, very much left for us to do. Instead, we become reactive rather than inter-reactive. Like a puzzle book with all the answers printed next to the questions, there is never a moment when we are asked if we would like to contribute. It has all been decided long ago by people we will never meet, living in places we are probably never likely to visit.

Whatever happened to the infinitely possible?

Which is why I believe new writing for young people is essential. Varied, exciting, adventurous in their horizons, new works wait, expectantly like good plays should, now passive texts, for the moment to activate, the instant when performer meets audience and the air will once again be thick with wondrous imaginings for both.

It’s a magic time.

Treasure it.

Article by Alan Ayckbourn and copyright of Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.

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