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If I were an 8 year old…

theatre royal

My old stomping ground (good ol’ York Youth Theatre), has always encouraged its members with the odd writing project and slipping a few home-written scenes in our devised pieces.  Since being exported to University (good ol’ Leeds Uni) I’ve written a few more plays we’ve put on with minimal casts, political themes and DIY sets performed whenever and wherever possible.  Students can’t be picky.  But it hit me a week ago…an idea of a Youth Theatre play.  No, scratch that…a few ideas.  But the most fleshed out so far is an idea for 8-10s.  So I’ve started planning this play for the moment titled ‘The Bridge’.

I assisted with an 8-10s group in York for half a year with a play called ‘The Thingummyjig’.  If you know the play, you’ll know it’s a fun, eccentric piece perfect for 8-10s.  So how does one go about concocting a sugary brew of theatre for young people?  Well, the first place to start is my own experience.  If I was an 8 year-old, what sort of play would I want to do?  In fact, if I was a Youth Theatre director what sort of play would I want to do?  And while we’re at, it, if I was the parent of this 8 year-old what play would I want them to do?  Simply:  it’s got to be fun, vibrant and energetic.  That doesn’t mean to say rockets, explosions, cartoon clowns and bagful of dinosaurs…but there has to be something interesting for the kids to grab.  That means a host of interesting activities and characters.  I thought, well, it all boils down to the stereotypes of a ‘pompous character’ or a ‘scared character’ and how you need to push that so the kids can really grab the concept and run with it (hopefully not run too much though…health and safety see?).  Then physically onstage they want some sort of energy bubbling away.  That means the play needs action.  Again, we’re not talking running-down-a-tunnel-pursued-by-a-giant-rolling-boulder action.  But 8-10s don’t sit around.  Also, the play can’t be as long as Hamlet.  The kids can only learn the right language and length.  And inevitably the best way to give everyone equal(ish) parts without bombarding them with lines seems to be the traditional form of choral speaking.  If I write a few monologues, then it’s up to the individual Youth Theatre director to split up lines to accommodate ability, staging and an unpredictable cast size.

For now, I needed to put all my existentialist, philosophical, political, absurdist angst-ridden ideas on the shelf for now and think what themes do 8-10 years want to touch?  Or, maybe more accurately, what themes do parents and teachers want them to deal with?  Bear in mind the actor’s main concern is probably getting hold of the next game in the Pokemon series (Pokemon Platinum if you’re interested).  So when drawing up my plans for ‘The Bridge’ several ideas emerged.  Roughly speaking, it’s about a small town convinced by a young girl to build a bridge to see what’s on the other side of a huge river.  So there were these ideas of exploring the mysterious and not being afraid to discover new things in the world.  Or it could be about people rallying together to help the community.  Or it could be about never giving up on your dreams.  Or it could be about a bridge.  Taking my cue from Heiner Müller, audiences, director and actors inevitably interpret whatever messages they like from a play.  As long as there are some concept swimming around there’s no need to force it, kids can take what they like from doing this simple play and if they don’t, well, they don’t.  I think it’s important in the concept of Youth Theatre it’s something fun for kids to engage in a few hours a week.  It needs room for the director to divide up lines, play with character and physical scenes.  So this play I’m about to (finally) pen seems to not really belong to me.  In the other plays I’ve had a bash at; it’s wholly a construct of my warped, Kafka/Nietzsche-driven mind.  But here if feels this play, ‘The Bridge’, will be something of an outline: a collection of characters, speech and simple story which any youth theatre can adopt and turn into wholly their own, unique and special creation.

Of course that’s just my (admittedly jumbled) thoughts on writing for 8-10 year-old performances, and undoubtedly many people will have different opinions.  And I’ve never written for that age before so no doubt I have a lot to learn.  But for me, it boils down to the kids making it their own show because I know Youth Theatre forever carries that spark for original enthusiasm.  Now all I need to do is ferment the ideas I have for 11-13s performances.  And 14-16s.  At the moment I’m thinking bizarre, Monty Python/Mighty Boosh/Terry Pratchett surreal characters featuring a dastardly plot to eradicate all originality and make life a grey conformity.  With alternative dimensions, sewer-dwelling outcasts, Lovecraftian cultists and radio stations.  At least, that’s the sort of play I’d like to be in…but that’s a story for another time…