When considering Multiculturalism, I imagine people of various ages and experiences, from all over the world, speaking completely different languages, meeting for one common interest. This reason for meeting stretches the boundaries of cultural isolation, connecting those from diverse backgrounds who oftentimes find limitations in direct and verbal communication. My most recent observation of this Multicultural sharing was at Baboró, an International Arts Festival for Children in Galway, Ireland. The common interest, Theatre for Young Audiences, unites families living in Ireland with meaningful artistic experiences from around the world.
People of all ages (0-100) were invited to participate in the festival this October with the grounding principle that, as stated in the programme, “all children are citizens here and now, and have the cultural right to access the arts.” Not only did these children and adults have access to the arts, but they had access to high quality, international performances. The festival even offered a “Relaxed Programme,” which encouraged parents and teachers who may have concerns about bringing their children to a public event for various reasons. It ensured a welcoming, supportive and stress-free environment, meant to be an open environment for any audience member.
During my time at Baboró I witnessed various bilingual school groups aged 3-5 years old invited to engage in a non-verbal performance based on a well-known storybook. The Way Back Home was a collaboration between an Irish theatre company and a Danish theatre company, Branar Teatar and Teater Refleksion, respectively. They encouraged children to forget about spoken language and enjoy the sights and sounds of an imaginative story of a young boy finding his way home.
In the same shared space, Experiential Theatre Company, from the United States, invited children to take part in The Odyssey Experience. School groups from around County Galway and families, from the youngest child to the grandparents, played together onstage within the framework of an ancient story retold. At another venue children absorbed an abstract dance piece, from Theatre De Stilte of the Netherlands, in wonder. Through movement, sound, and objects, this piece examined the relationships between people through fun and serious play.
The diversity of performances reached a diversity of audiences, and were hosted by a diversity of TYA enthusiasts. The venue I worked in hosted staff from France, Italy, Ireland, the United States, China, and Greece. Our common mission was to ensure that children are treated with respect and care as they are inspired to engage with the world through their experience of the arts. With that mission in mind, we set off with smiles and warm greetings to do just that.
I believe Multiculturalism in TYA aligns with a kind of theatre that challenges preconceptions for a young audience: that meets the individual, despite their differences in culture, background, and intellectual ability, as an equal. It does not just mean engaging audiences from different backgrounds, it includes performers and staff as well. If young people are expected to gain anything from this type of experience, the people who are creating it should reflect the very diversity and openness to human connection that they hold valuable.
As TYA practitioners, we can provide these audiences with the tools to create a meaningful experience that makes Multiculturalism not only accessible, but visible and encouraged. The effect of each performance on children and families is a beautiful mystery, and may be different depending on each individual’s experience of the images and feelings that stick with them. In the book Theatre for Children and Young People (Bennett 2005), Paul Harman, an honorary member of ASSITEJ says, “Artists are unique. Like strong native trees, they are rooted in the soil of their own land.” Once we take these artists and bring them to individually unique audiences with integrity, Multiculturalism is inevitable.
For more information on Baboró, see: http://baboro.ie/
For further textual reference to TYA in the UK and abroad, see: Theatre for Children and Young People: 50 years of professional theatre in the UK, edited by Stuart Bennett, published by The Association for Children’s and Young People’s Theatre, 2005.