On the eve of the next Arts Council quality event, Miranda Thain, creative producer at Theatre Hullabaloo argues festivals are vital for achieving excellence.
1. a day or time of religious or other celebration, marked by feasting, ceremonies, or other observances:
2. a periodic commemoration, anniversary, or celebration
3. a period or program of festive activities, cultural events, or entertainment:
4. gaiety; revelry; merrymaking.
5. festal: a festival atmosphere of unrestrained joy.
In the North East of England we are surrounded by a plethora of festivals. From the spectacular to the humble, we celebrate everything from food to thrift, literature to light, and up here we are particularly good at celebrating our rich arts offer.
In worrying times, where we are led to believe that public support for the arts is waning, festivals provide an important platform to celebrate the arts and make their impacts visible to those that might not otherwise engage. With this in mind, and despite a difficult climate for local authorities, Theatre Hullabaloo decided in 2012 to embark on an ambitious expansion of our own TakeOff Festival of Theatre for Children and Young People, that would see it reach more children and young people across our region than ever before.
Having achieved its quarter century, TakeOff Festival is one of the longest established festivals of theatre for children and young people and is also one of the most important annual meeting points for those working in the field of theatre for young audiences.
The festival serves dual audiences; at once offering a programme that will thrill and delight children and families across the region with some of the best theatre for young audiences from around the globe, and also being an annual conference for artists, funders, producers, programmers and educators all interested in the business of raising the quality and profile of theatre for children and young people.
Curating a festival that meets the needs of both audiences is always a challenge, but this challenge is a completely joyful one. Programming brilliantly bonkers early years work from Belgium that will stretch programmers is all the more special when you know that this work will also delight nursery children in village halls in the farthest reaches of County Durham.
Practically, TakeOff Festival brings fantastic opportunities to young audiences that would otherwise never have access to them. In areas of low aspiration, bringing families together to share experiences that are world-class gives young people the message that they are entitled to expect quality theatre that encourages them to think about the world differently. Young people are often excellent judges of quality, but we all need to see great work to help us to be able to recognise it.
For the professionals, it provides an opportunity to share and discuss work, find a critical dialogue with which we can test our own ideas; developing our individual practice and a wider community of theatre-makers who share a common aspiration to make excellent theatre for children and young people. This takes place in structured ways through responses to scratch presentations, keynote speakers, provocations and discussions with the companies presenting their work, but, as always, the more important stuff takes place in the spaces in between as collaborations and co-productions emerge from the seeds of an idea and a synthesis of values.
A wise man once told me 'If you want theatre for young audiences to be the best in the world, you have to make it the most exciting place for artists to work'. I also think you have to make it a place that children and young people want to be and where their grown-ups feel confident to take them.
In the context of recession-hit Britain, the ‘gaiety, revelry and merrymaking’ of the festival phenomenon might seem like a luxury we cannot afford and yet, festivals provide a celebration of community – artistic and geographic - that we need now more than ever. For theatre for young audiences to be of the quality that our audiences deserve, we must celebrate and champion it. In a small way, TakeOff Festival engages artists with the brilliant possibilities of work in this field and offers our youngest audiences something astonishing.
Miranda Thain is Creative Producer of Theatre Hullabaloo, the North East’s specialist producer of theatre for young audiences. www.theatrehullabaloo.org.uk
TakeOff Festival 2013 takes place 21 – 27 October 2013 www.takeofffestival.org.uk.