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Alternative Worlds: the emergence of Theatre for Young Audiences from the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Tom Maguire

Résumé

This essay traces the development of an identifiable sector of Theatre for Young Audiences in Northern Ireland during the ethno-religious violent conflict known as The Troubles from 1968 to 1998. During that period, children were regarded as a largely homogeneous group within legislative and policy frameworks that were concerned primarily with the impact of that conflict on children. This period saw the emergence of a theatre specifically for children, without any over-arching sense of a sector. Following the signing of the Belfast Agreement of 1998, the broader turn to a rights-based culture amplified the impact of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) within government policy and the growth of a culture that promoted, more broadly, the child as an autonomous human being. In parallel to this turn, a recognizable children’s theatre sector developed to create spaces locally for children to attend performances, and performances which engage with the aesthetics of Theatre for Young Audiences internationally through collaboration and partnerships.

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Introduction

  • 1 I am making a distinction here between TYA and forms of youth theatre, Drama-in-Education and theat (...)
  • 2 For an introduction to the conflict, see David McKittrick and David McVea, Making Sense of The Trou (...)
  • 3 There are still violent incidents and paramilitary activities that mean the peace is uneasy for man (...)

1The development of a specific international movement promoting Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) can be traced to the advent of shared ideologies from at least the end of World War II, that culminated in the foundation of ASSITEJ, the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People in 1965. Yet the emergence of professional theatre companies making performances aimed specifically at this audience1 within Northern Ireland did not happen until much later. The violent conflict, known as The Troubles2, that erupted in 1968 and lasted until the signing of the Belfast Agreement of 1998 would not appear to have been an auspicious context for the development of this work3. Nonetheless, during The Troubles, initiatives to develop theatre for children benefitted from specific cultural policy interventions that have supported the emergence of new and alternative conceptions of identity in general and childhood in particular. Since 1998, the consolidation and development of that work can be seen through the emergence of a recognizable sector that provides for a further reconceptualization of childhood and the child spectator. TYA in Northern Ireland today is informed, therefore, by practices and ideologies that are distinctive from those that informed its initial impulses, yet are in an asymmetrical relationship to other developments in the discourse of post-conflict childhood.

The Troubles and Childhood

  • 4 The conflation of political and ethno-religious identities is problematic in terms of the various e (...)

2The violent conflict of The Troubles can be attributed to a number of different factors, principally the asymmetrical distribution of power according to divided political ideologies that articulated itself primarily in violence, variously political and sectarian, between two dominant ethno-religious identity blocs: Catholic/Irish/nationalist or Protestant/Unionist/loyalist4. The near-monolithic status of each did much to inhibit alternative ideologies and exercised an extremely conservative view of the place, role and treatment of children within the broader society. Ewart, Schubotz et al. provide a succinct summary of how the violence

  • 5 Shirley Ewart, Dirk Schubotz et al., Voices behind the Statistics: Young People’s Views of Sectaria (...)

has created the climate within which sectarianism and segregation permeates every facet of Northern Irish society, on personal, social, political and economic levels (Connolly and Maginn, 1999). There is widespread residential, educational and social segregation, reflected in the fact that 95% of children attend schools segregated by religion, and 80% of social housing is also segregated…5

  • 6 Ed Cairns, Caught in Crossfire: Children and the Northern Ireland Conflict, Belfast, Apple Tree Pre (...)
  • 7 Colin Coulter, “Northern Ireland’s elusive peace dividend: Neoliberalism, austerity and the politic (...)
  • 8 Tom Maguire, “Beyond the culture of concern: the context and practice of TYA in contemporary Northe (...)
  • 9 Ibid., p. 46.
  • 10 By 2016, however, only 7% of children attended integrated schools, according to Robin Wilson, The N (...)

3The principal effects of the conflict on policy and practices concerning children were, on the one hand, to concentrate on addressing the segregation of children across this sectarian fault-line and, on the other hand, to homogenize children and childhood6. As Colin Coulter has pointed out, the violence was concentrated in a small number of areas, characterized by “grinding, multigenerational poverty.”7 Nonetheless, research into childhood across Northern Ireland, particularly during the period of The Troubles, was dominated by projects “focused on the ways in which sectarianism has been inculcated within children and with what effects.8 Many of the legal and social policy interventions across this period were similarly a response to anxiety about the outworkings of sectarianism in childhood. They focused on creating points of contact between children from divided ethno-religious backgrounds, while ignoring many of the other ways in which children were separated by class, gender, sexual orientation, geography or home circumstances9. Ironically, the state maintained and funded separate education provision for children through schools divided according to religious denomination, reinforcing the very sectarianism that was the source of such anxiety. It was only in 1989 that the Education Reform Order (NI) gave the Department of Education a duty to “encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education instituting the first break with decades of divided education10.

  • 11 Donna Lanclos, At Play in Belfast: Children's Folklore and Identities in Northern Ireland, Piscataw (...)
  • 12 Marie Smyth, “Chapter 3: Deaths of children and young people in The Troubles” in: Half the Battle: (...)

4This concern with the protection of children from sectarianism can be traced to more general discourses within which the child is regarded as a vulnerable innocent. During The Troubles, this sense of vulnerability elevated children to being the paramount symbol of innocence11. Smyth, for example, proposed that [a]n examination of those killed in the conflict since 1969 illustrates the particularly vulnerable situation of children and young people12, though her analysis suggests that other childhood threats, specifically sexual abuse and road deaths, were much more prevalent. She draws attention to the involvement of children as participants in and perpetrators of violence, noting their involvement in paramilitary organizations and that in the 1970s the British Army deployed soldiers as young as 16 in Northern Ireland.

  • 13 Joe Duffy, Jason Caldwell and Mary Collins, “Reflections on the Impact of the Children (NI) Order 1 (...)
  • 14 Ibid.

5Throughout the period of The Troubles, a series of legislative reforms were introduced in Northern Ireland to implement policies and build systems that truly can protect children and support families.”13 The Children Act (1989) and then The Children’s Order (1995) were significant milestones in the creation of this system. Each sought to deliver on the responsibility of the state to protect and to prevent harm to children14. The United Nations’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) (hereafter UNCRC) provided a context for the provisions of The Children’s Order. However, irrespective of the other articles of the UNCRC, there was little consequence in making children’s voices heard in the implementation of the Order. Thus, the regulation of childhood was undertaken without any inclusion of children as agents in their own lives.

Theatre for Young Audiences: first shoots

  • 15 Ophelia Byrne, “Replay Productions”, Culture NI [online], 2004, url: http://www.culturenorthernirel (...)
  • 16 For further details and a discussion of the company’s work, see Fiona Coleman Coffey’s Political Ac (...)
  • 17 Brenda Winter, “Interview with Eugene McNulty” in: Eugene McNulty and Tom Maguire (eds), The Theatr (...)
  • 18 Donna Lanclos, At Play in Belfast, op. cit., p. 14.
  • 19 The production details for all productions are taken from the entries on the Irish Theatre Institut (...)
  • 20 Brenda Winter emphasises that she was interested in producing plays in schools and other educationa (...)

6In the context of this regulatory and social policy framework that sought to protect children from the sectarian dimensions of the conflict, creative approaches to children’s theatre were slow to emerge. The tradition of pantomimes staged at Christmas which can be traced back to the nineteenth century continued. The Lyric Theatre, then the region’s only regular producing venue, mounted annual Christmas productions aimed at families, while the output of Belfast’s Arts Theatre included commercial musicals and touring productions, some of which were aimed at young audiences. It was not until 1988 that a theatre company focused on working only for children and young people, Replay Productions, was founded by Brenda Winter15. Winter had had experience in working as an actress in shows for younger audiences at the Arts. In 1985, she became a founder member of Charabanc Theatre Company, a radical women’s-led company that focused on producing plays that engaged with the lives of working-class women in Northern Ireland and on bringing performances to community venues16. The birth of Winter’s second child meant that she could no longer commit to the touring demanded by Charabanc productions. She recalls that I’d originally conceived Replay as a kind of Charabanc for schools. In other words, it was to be a group that privileged the language of this place, the culture and history of this place – and brought that work into the schools.17 It is hardly surprising then that an emphasis on a shared local identity is the singlemost defining characteristic of this initial period of production. Childhood in Northern Ireland’s history is presented more frequently than not as a common ground rather than a source of division. It follows the same impulse that Lanclos identifies in the ways in which folklore collections constructed a specific idealized innocence as the hallmark of pre-Troubles childhood18. Replay’s first production was a historical drama, Under Napoleon’s Nose19, based on a documentary project on the experience of the 1941 Belfast Blitz. Its first performance was in a secondary school as part of a tour to schools and venues. Winter committed the company from the outset to the production of high quality theatre experiences for children and saw her work less in the tradition of British Theatre-in-Education and more about bringing high quality work to the audience where she would find them20. For children, this meant schools in the first instance, though it extended to theatres and museums.

  • 21 In this sense, much of the repertoire echoed the informing ethos of Charabanc to build on commonali (...)

7During this period, Replay developed the repertoire of new works for children. Winter’s own contribution included The Azoo Story (1993); The Battle for Morrigan’s Mound (1996); The Great I am (1994); and The Little Wee Martian (1999). These last two are particularly notable in their engagement with particular relevance for children with disabilities, a feature to which the company would return in its most recent period. Importantly, Winter also commissioned original work from a number of playwrights, fostering sustained relationships with some of them, and engendering in them the experience and understanding of what might work with audiences of children. The range of topics and audiences for Replay’s work during this period indicates an understanding that there was no such thing as a single child audience, as can be seen from three plays in 1991 and 1992. Marie Jones’s The Cow, the Ship and the Indian (1991) was aimed at 8 to 11 year-olds and examines the impact of Irish emigration to North America in the 19th century. In the same year, John P. Rooney’s Permanent Deadweight uses a play-within-a-play approach to examine the transportation of over 4,000 children from Irish workhouses to Australia during the Irish famine, from the perspective of a group of contemporary teenagers. Damian Gorman’s Ground Control to Davy Mental (1992) was produced for 14 to 18 year-olds, examining the breakdown of the family of nineteen year-old Davey Gordon and the impact of alcohol on him. The repertoire of work in this period focused on experiences of childhood, both historical and contemporary, that might be common across sectarian divisions, or was rooted in aspects of life within which dominant identity blocs were less prominent21. This repertoire aligned directly then with the wider processes towards peace-making that celebrated common ground between divided communities.

  • 22 Hélène Hamayon-Alfaro, Sustaining Social Inclusion through the Arts: The Case of Northern Irelan (...)
  • 23 Norman L. Richardson, “Education for Mutual Understanding and Cultural Heritage.” CAIN Web service (...)

8Crucially, there was funding available for the new company through grant-aid and subsidy from the state body, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI). In 1995, ACNI had become a statutory agency and had committed itself to widening access, increasing participation, and targeting social need.22 It had access to new funding via the UK’s National Lottery Fund that had been established in 1995. There was also funding indirectly via other government initiatives. One such was the introduction across all schools of the compulsory cross-curriculum themes of Education for Mutual Understanding and Cultural Heritage through the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order of 198923. This meant that there was a demand for productions that addressed both themes, in addition to funding within education budgets to support schools hosting the company’s work.

  • 24 It does not diminish her expertise or contribution to note that she is the daughter of Emelie Fitzg (...)

9Replay can be credited with nurturing the earliest shoots of what would become the children’s theatre sector in Northern Ireland. It developed touring networks that demonstrated that it was possible to reach children through and beyond institutional theatre venues. It created opportunities for the development of writers to craft work specifically for children. Its programmes of productions also meant training, experience and employment for theatre makers to work with this audience. Building the capacity to mount tours and engage with external partners and collaborators was also significant. In 1997, Ali Fitzgibbon took over as General Manager of the company, a role she would occupy until 2004. She would go on to work as Artistic and Executive Director of Young at Art, leading the development of its annual Belfast Children’s Festival and year-round activities24.

Post-Good Friday Agreement: different childhoods, same rights

  • 25 Simon Thompson, “Parity of Esteem and the Politics of Recognition,” Contemporary Political Theory, (...)
  • 26 The continuation of conflict by other means between the unionist and nationalist identity blocs has (...)
  • 27 Joe Duffy, Jason Caldwell and Mary Collins, “Reflections on the Impact of the Children (NI) Order 1 (...)

10The Belfast Agreement of 1998 articulated and amplified a shift towards a rights-based society as the basis for equality between all its members. While this was primarily focused on “parity of esteem” between the dominant unionist and nationalist communities25, it had impacts on the ways in which the recognition of rights across a range of identity differences would play out across society. The recognition of the rights of children was one significant aspect of this26. Under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (1998) through which the Agreement came into effect as law, public authorities were required to “have due regard” to the need to promote equality of opportunity between “People of different racial groups, age [my emphasis], marital status or sexual orientation”. Thus, children and young people could now be recognized within the law as a separate identity group with rights; and childhood itself could be recognized as intersecting with a range of other identities. Furthermore, “The introduction of the Human Rights Act (1998) into Northern Ireland domestic law in 2000 was also highly significant in providing a rights’ based backdrop to how important aspects of the State’s relationship with families and children would be played out.”27

  • 28 The legislation establishing the office of the Commissioner and the reports on its progress can be (...)
  • 29 Laura Lundy, “‘Voice’ is not enough: conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on (...)
  • 30 Ibid., p. 933.
  • 31 Participation Network, ASK FIRST! - Northern Ireland Standards for Children & Young People’s Partic (...)

11In 2003, the office of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) was established through legislation. While safeguarding was one key aim, a commitment to the rights of children and young people was legally enshrined with implications across all public services28. Critically, through the establishment of a Youth Panel, NICCY became the first statutory body to incorporate children and young people into its processes and workings. While the primary function of the Youth Panel is to inform the working of the Commission, other public bodies engage with it to gain an understanding of the experiences and views of children and young people. NICCY advocates for a model of participation developed by Laura Lundy29. This model has four inter-related dimensions: space, voice, audience and influence. It recognizes that a child has a right to express a view and a right that this view be given due weight30. I will return to this model as a reference point for the work of those making TYA in Northern Ireland. In 2010, a set of standards for children and young people’s participation in public decision-making called ASK FIRST! was published and adopted by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister31.

12A further articulation of a rights-based discourse around children came in the Children’s Services Co-operation Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 which came into effect in December 2015. It aimed to improve co-operation between named “Children’s Authorities” and “other children’s services providers” who contribute to the wellbeing of children. It also required the Northern Ireland Executive to consult with children and young persons before adopting a strategy to improve their well-being.

Theatre for Young Audiences: building a sector, differentiating the audience

  • 32 Anthony Everitt and Anabel Jackson, Opening up the Arts: a Strategy Review of the Arts Council of N (...)
  • 33 Arts Council of Northern Ireland, The Arts: Inspiring the Imagination, Building the Future, 2001-6, (...)
  • 34 Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Annual Report, 2001-2002, London, The Stationery Office, 2003, p. (...)

13The shift in the legal status of children post-1998 in Northern Ireland contributed to the conditions in which a TYA sector would emerge, legitimating the turn to the provision of theatre aimed directly at them. ACNI had been placed under the aegis of the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure and, following the formation of a devolved government, was for the first time directly accountable to an elected Minister. One consequence was that it was subjected to a major review in 2000, Opening Up The Arts32, to identify how it might support further the contribution of the arts to social inclusion and cohesion. Subsequently, ACNI’s five-year plan for 2001-200633 identified as one of its key areas for action encouraging the creativity of children and young people”. In the Annual Report for 2001-2002, the Chief Executive, Roisin McDonough, reported that “we dedicated an extra £120,000 to organisations geared to providing arts opportunities for children and young people”34 and in 2002-3, it introduced a new officer for Youth Arts. This allowed a more focused approach to the growing sector that the Council had funded through a range of schemes and intiatives previously, primarily within the Community Arts portfolio.

  • 35 Colin Coulter, “Northern Ireland’s elusive peace dividend, op. cit.
  • 36 Olga Skarlato et al., “Grassroots Peacebuilding in Northern Ireland and the Border Counties: Elemen (...)
  • 37 Matt Jennings, Martin Beirne, Stephanie Knight, “‘Just about coping’: precarity and resilience amon (...)

14Furthermore, the provision of funding streams – a so-called “peace dividend”35 – through a range of international funds accessible by local authorities, third sector organizations and arts producers meant that there were additional resources available to support a burgeoning children’s theatre sector, within which theatre for children could grow. Perhaps the most significant of these were the PEACE and INTERREG programmes administered in a phased approach by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) that was established to address a range of structural economic and social issues on a cross-border basis36. As well as investments in infrastructure, these programmes funded a range of initiatives in which arts organisations were partners or for which they provided services and activities. Of particular note is the funding ear-marked to improve the lives of children and young people and to fund cross-community activities in schools. Jennings, Beirne and Knight acknowledge that such funding streams provided opportunities for arts organisations, communities and individuals to develop new collaborative work and cross-community relationships” although they note that while Significant amounts of this funding were spent on community arts projects… the exact amount is impossible to calculate as money was allocated and accounted for according to policy objectives, rather than modes of delivery.”37

  • 38 Anne Marie Gray et al, Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report, Number Five.

15Finally, the huge reduction of violence as a consequence of the peace processes allowed people to move out of hitherto segregated communities and to engage with each other within the wider public sphere with much greater confidence38.

16These factors facilitated the emergence of other companies and individuals focusing on making work specifically for children. In 2001, a second TYA company, CAHOOTS NI was founded, under the artistic direction of Paul McEneaney, with the principal aim of “creating memorable experiences for children using physical theatre, contemporary circus, original music, digital technology and the age-old popularity of magic and illusion.”39 Whilst Big Telly Theatre Company had a longer history of making theatre for adult audiences, its artistic director, Zoe Seaton, was a co-founder of CAHOOTS NI and would go on to direct productions for both Replay and CAHOOTS NI. Although Big Telly is not a TYA company per se, through projects such as The Little Mermaid (2005) and Sinbad (2008), the company has produced innovative work specifically for young audiences. Its approach exemplifies the more sporadic engagement by a range of theatre producers with children as audiences. The number of receiving houses for touring work for children has also increased across Northern Ireland through its regional arts centres. The latter also frequently stage professional pantomime and Christmas shows specifically for children. The Grand Opera House in Belfast also hosts large-scale commercial productions, including musicals, most recently for example, Madagascar The Musical.

  • 40 ACNI, Ambitions for the Arts: A Five Year Strategic Plan for the Arts in Northern Ireland 2013-2018 (...)

17While the increase of productions for young audiences was one element, a second was the growing recognition that the diversity of children required an approach that would be inclusive of spectators with a range of differences. ACNI developed a policy where the conditions to support inclusivity of arts practices was foregrounded. The drive towards more inclusive practices were expressed in its Ambitions for the Arts: A Five Year Strategic Plan for the Arts in Northern Ireland 2013-2018. It committed to supporting “dedicated interventions to enhance community engagement, out-reach programmes and collaborative projects that work beyond conventional arts spaces and activities that reach new audiences in fields such as disability, intercultural diversity, older people, marginalised children and youth.”40

  • 41 Sara Keating, “Bringing theatre alive for children with disabilities”, Irish Times [online], 8 Marc (...)
  • 42 Tom Maguire, Accessible theatre-making for spectators with visual impairment: CAHOOTS NI’s The Gift (...)

18The extension of the understanding of and inclusive response to the diversity of spectators who attend performances aligned closely with the ACNI policy and can be seen across a number of dimensions. The development of performance practices for young and very young audiences is ongoing. Replay, under the artistic direction of Anna Newell, first developed this work in collaboration with Assault Events to produce Wobble for early years in 2011; and a year later produced Babble, a show designed specifically for babies. This was followed in 2012 by TiNY. Newell also pioneered other ways of differentiating the audience, most notably across (dis)ability. Drawing on its earlier roots, Replay conducted a year-long consultation in 2010 with a variety of stakeholders to explore how theatre was being produced for children with a disability. Influenced directly by the work of England’s Oily Cart, the company initiated projects for children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties. A sustained period of exploration and research with such children led to four new productions: Bliss (2012), Closer (2014), Into the Blue (2015) and Snoozle and the Lullabugs (2016)41. In 2019, the company staged Yes Sir, I Can Boogie, a show designed for children aged 3-7 with motor impairment. In 2015, CAHOOTS NI undertook a project to construct an immersive experience of a dramatic narrative that was as rich for children with visual impairments as it was for sighted audience members42.

19These engagements with the diversity of child spectators are one strain of the wider development of new spaces for children’s theatre. Some of these spaces, as in The Gift, are temporary; some like Replay’s Bubble – a geodesic tent for working with children with PMLD – are portable. Combining elements of each is the annual week-long Belfast Children’s Festival, established in 1998, and the year-round activities of Young at Art. Young at Art’s current website declares that the company:

believes passionately that every child should have the right to access exciting and original creative experiences, regardless of who they are or where they come from. The company believes that arts provision should be FOR children and young people as well as BY children and young people. In this, it promotes child-inspired work by professional artists with an emphasis on performance and exhibition content over participatory activities.43

20There is only one permanent venue supporting children’s arts across Northern Ireland. In 2002, Sticky Fingers Arts was established as the very first dedicated arts programme for very young children in Northern Ireland44. It now runs The Imaginarium Arts Centre which hosts a range of performance activities alongside an interactive play space. Working across a range of art forms, it would go on to be a partner in the project, Small Size, the European Network for the Diffusion of Performing Arts for Early Childhood45.

21This participation in wider networks is only one example of the way in which TYA makers have engaged with the wider international context. The establishment of the Belfast Children’s Festival, under the directorship of Ali Fitzgibbon, represented a significant departure for the arts sector in Northern Ireland. Twenty-one years on, it attracts a range of international productions, and incorporates exhibitions, literary events and participatory performances. The exchange of artistic practices through hosting practitioners from abroad has also been formalized through seminars and workshops as part of the festival. Northern Irish TYA makers have also been supported and there is now a showcase of work-in-development within the programme. Such showcases have allowed TYA productions from Northern Ireland to themselves tour internationally. CAHOOTS NI toured their adaptation of Chris Haughton’s SHH! We have a plan to twelve venues across the United States in 2019, building on the success of previous tours, including Egg (2017). Co-production has also provided a more sustainable funding model: CAHOOTS NI’s Nivelli’s War was remounted in 2017 as a co-production with the Lyric Theatre on Broadway. In 2019, Penguins was co-produced by CAHOOTS NI and Birmingham Rep, and then show-cased at IPAY in the United States, as part of a wider tour there. One of the advantages for TYA producers within Northern Ireland is the access it has to the ASSITEJ centres of TYA-Ireland and TYA-UK.

The challenge of children’s agency

  • 46 Shifra Schonmann, Theatre as a Medium for Children and Young People: Images and Observations, New Y (...)
  • 47 Laura Lundy, “'Voice' is not enough”, op. cit.

22While in the pre-1998 period, the work of Replay exemplified a turn to children ahead of other sectors, after 1998, children’s agency in many other areas of public life has surpassed what they can do in relation to a theatre created for them. While the TYA sector still champions the right of children to access culture, in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, it is adults who “write the plays, who act and direct performances, and who choose the plays to be watched by the young audiences.”46 The standards of Ask First! and the principles and practices developed by NICCY within The Lundy Model have yet to enter into the practices of Northern Ireland’s TYA. Within that model, four dimensions are glossed with simple statements. Thus, the concept of “Space” requires that children should be given the opportunity to express a view. To support that opportunity, children can be given a “Voice” by being facilitated to express their view”. Once this is in place, there must be an “Audience” for this view, requiring that the view must be listened to”. The final requirement is for “Influence”, meaning that the view must be acted upon as appropriate.”47

  • 48 Tom Maguire, Accessible theatre-making for spectators, op. cit.
  • 49 Geesche Watermann, “Children as Experts. Contemporary Models and Reasons for Children’s and Young P (...)
  • 50 Aideen Howard, “Foreword”, in: Deirdre Horgan, Shirley Martin and Annie Cummins-McNamara, An Evalua (...)

23If they were to adopt this model, those making, programming and curating theatre for children would have to make significant changes to their practices. There are numerous examples of participatory events and activities across the sector, most obviously in forms engaging with those with disabilities48 or early years audiences. Feedback from children is routinely collated after performances and there are often additional outreach activities and workshops with them. It is not clear how these sporadic activities, however, meet the requirements of “Audience” and “Influence”, since there is no record kept of how children’s views are taken into account and acted on. Geesche Watermann demonstrated there are practices within TYA elsewhere on which the sector in Northern Ireland might draw on to meet the requirements of the model in a survey of different approaches to the acknowledgement of “children as experts”. These range from participatory modes of performance by companies such as Gob Squad to Mammalian Diving Reflex’s The Children’s Choice Awards, an example of a performative act where children appear as experts and agents49. There is, as yet, little sense of these impulses being taken up by TYA companies in Northern Ireland. There is scant evidence of the participation of children in the governance or decision-making of organizations equivalent to the Children’s Council of The Ark in Dublin. This was established in 2016, “with the dual purpose of creating an ongoing participation practice in arts and culture for a diverse group of children which would, in turn, inform artistic programming for The Ark’s child audience and overall institutional decision-making.”50

Conclusion

24In the face of the violent conflict of The Troubles, pioneering theatre makers in Northern Ireland developed forms of practice that engaged directly with children, emphasizing the relationship between a shared identity and sharing space on common ground. This approach fitted with broader strategies within public policy to increase contact between children from segregated communities around activities that emphasized their commonality of history and experience. Through developing models of practice that included new writing for children, modes of collaboration and touring work to the audience, these theatre makers laid the ground for the TYA sector that would emerge. Moreover, in the values that underpinned their work, emphasizing that artistic quality was paramount, they demonstrated a recognition of children as fully formed human beings, rather than human “becomings”, that was often ahead of other areas of practice.

25Following the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, and the institution of a devolved government, conditions were put in place that supported and shaped the development of a new TYA sector. The support came in the form of additional funding for children and young people as part of widespread policy shifts towards a more inclusive approach to access to the arts. Theatre makers responded with a greater diversity and inventiveness in their approaches to making theatre for children and responded to a greater sense of differentiation of the audience. The sector was increasingly informed by and engaged with a wider international context. However, where public policy elsewhere has shifted to accommodate a role for children as agents in decisions made about them, TYA in Northern Ireland has yet to find ways to allow such agency in deciding what is made for them, or to be engaged consistently in how it is made or judged. Doing this in an effective way requires a willingness to engage with children and young people, skilled facilitation, and the capacity to sustain such engagement over time and within iterative cycles with which different children will engage over time. The success of TYA practitioners in Northern Ireland in contributing to and delivering on public policy priorities in earlier periods (anti-sectarianism, widening access and inclusive practice) was predicated on resources being made available to them to support such skill development and capacity-building. Such resources allowed them to align a commitment to artistic quality with wider objectives in a creative and imaginative way, drawing on influences from and collaborations with practitioners internationally. In the absence of such resources, children will remain an audience whose agency is limited in a field that is dedicated to them.

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Notes

1 I am making a distinction here between TYA and forms of youth theatre, Drama-in-Education and theatre in schools.

2 For an introduction to the conflict, see David McKittrick and David McVea, Making Sense of The Troubles, revised edition, London, Penguin, 2001.

3 There are still violent incidents and paramilitary activities that mean the peace is uneasy for many and a number of legacy issues that remain unresolved.

4 The conflation of political and ethno-religious identities is problematic in terms of the various explanatory discourses for the violence and their outworkings in the lived experiences of people. It continues to haunt the uneasy peace since 1998. For further discussion, see Tom Maguire, Making Theatre in Northern Ireland: Through and Beyond The Troubles, Exeter, UEP, 2006.

5 Shirley Ewart, Dirk Schubotz et al., Voices behind the Statistics: Young People’s Views of Sectarianism in Northern Ireland, London, National Children's Bureau, 2004, p. 12.

6 Ed Cairns, Caught in Crossfire: Children and the Northern Ireland Conflict, Belfast, Apple Tree Press, 1987.

7 Colin Coulter, “Northern Ireland’s elusive peace dividend: Neoliberalism, austerity and the politics of class”, Capital & Class, vol. 43, n° 1, 2019, p. 124.

8 Tom Maguire, “Beyond the culture of concern: the context and practice of TYA in contemporary Northern Ireland, in: Geesche Wartemann, Tülin Saglam and Mary McAvoy (eds), Youth and Performance – Perceptions of the Contemporary Child, Hildesheim, Olms Weidmann, p. 44.

9 Ibid., p. 46.

10 By 2016, however, only 7% of children attended integrated schools, according to Robin Wilson, The Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report, Number Four, Belfast, Community Relations Council, 2016, p. 121.

11 Donna Lanclos, At Play in Belfast: Children's Folklore and Identities in Northern Ireland, Piscataway (NJ), Rutgers University Press, 2003, p1-2.

12 Marie Smyth, “Chapter 3: Deaths of children and young people in The Troubles” in: Half the Battle: Understanding the impact of “The Troubles” on children and young people [online at Cain Web service], Derry, INCORE, 1998, url: https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/issues/violence/cts/smyth1.htm [Accessed 20 March 2019].

13 Joe Duffy, Jason Caldwell and Mary Collins, “Reflections on the Impact of the Children (NI) Order 1995”, Child Care in Practice, vol. 22, n° 6, 2016, p. 328.

14 Ibid.

15 Ophelia Byrne, “Replay Productions”, Culture NI [online], 2004, url: http://www.culturenorthernireland.org/article/824/replay-productions [Accessed 23 March 2019].

16 For further details and a discussion of the company’s work, see Fiona Coleman Coffey’s Political Acts: Women in Northern Irish Theatre, 1921-2012, Syracuse (NY), Syracuse University Press, 2016.

17 Brenda Winter, “Interview with Eugene McNulty” in: Eugene McNulty and Tom Maguire (eds), The Theatre of Marie Jones: Telling Stories from the Ground up, Dublin, Carysfort Press, 2015, p. 63-69.

18 Donna Lanclos, At Play in Belfast, op. cit., p. 14.

19 The production details for all productions are taken from the entries on the Irish Theatre Institute’s online database, PLAYOGRAPHY Ireland [online], url: http://www.irishplayography.com [Accessed 13 February 2020]. The play was scripted by fellow Charabanc member, Marie Jones, who had emerged as the lead writer within the company, albeit within collaborative processes for making theatre. She would later go on to a career as one of Northern Ireland’s leading playwrights, while continuing to act on stage and on television and film. See Eugene McNulty and Tom Maguire (eds), The Theatre of Marie Jones, op. cit.

20 Brenda Winter emphasises that she was interested in producing plays in schools and other educational settings, rather than in using some of the more usual practices of Theatre-in-Education, “Interview with Eugene McNulty”, op. cit.

21 In this sense, much of the repertoire echoed the informing ethos of Charabanc to build on commonalities of experience across the boundaries of sectarian identity.

22 Hélène Hamayon-Alfaro, Sustaining Social Inclusion through the Arts: The Case of Northern Ireland, The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, vol. 37, n° 1/2, 2011, p. 130.

23 Norman L. Richardson, “Education for Mutual Understanding and Cultural Heritage.” CAIN Web service [online], 1997, url: http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/emu/emuback.htm [Accessed 20 March 2019].

24 It does not diminish her expertise or contribution to note that she is the daughter of Emelie Fitzgibbon, founding Artistic Director of Graffiti Theatre in Cork which had led the development of the sector in the Republic of Ireland. See Tom Maguire, “Theatre for Young Audiences in Ireland” in: Eamonn Jordan and Eric Weitz (eds) Palgrave Handbook of Contemporary Irish Theatre, Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2018, p. 151-164. Emelie Fitzgibbon also directed John P. Rooney’s Squinty & the Scotch Giant for Replay in 1994.

25 Simon Thompson, “Parity of Esteem and the Politics of Recognition,” Contemporary Political Theory, vol. 1,  2, 2002, p. 203-220.

26 The continuation of conflict by other means between the unionist and nationalist identity blocs has given rise to what Gray et al. have termed “culture wars” in The Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report Number Five, Belfast, Community Relations Council, 2018, p. 184. It has also spurred on a range of additional interventions to limit the impact and influence of sectarianism on children, op. cit., p. 169-171; p. 183.

27 Joe Duffy, Jason Caldwell and Mary Collins, “Reflections on the Impact of the Children (NI) Order 1995”, op. cit., p. 328.

28 The legislation establishing the office of the Commissioner and the reports on its progress can be found on the website of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People at https://www.niccy.org/about-us/corporate/niccy-legislation/.

29 Laura Lundy, “‘Voice’ is not enough: conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child”, British Educational Research Journal, vol. 33, n° 6, 2007, p. 927-942.

30 Ibid., p. 933.

31 Participation Network, ASK FIRST! - Northern Ireland Standards for Children & Young People’s Participation in Public Decision Making [online], Belfast, Participation Network, 2010, url: http://www.ci-ni.org.uk/DatabaseDocs/nav_3175978__ask_first.pdf [Accessed 25 April 2019].

32 Anthony Everitt and Anabel Jackson, Opening up the Arts: a Strategy Review of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast, ACNI, 2000.

33 Arts Council of Northern Ireland, The Arts: Inspiring the Imagination, Building the Future, 2001-6, Belfast, Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

34 Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Annual Report, 2001-2002, London, The Stationery Office, 2003, p. 10.

35 Colin Coulter, “Northern Ireland’s elusive peace dividend, op. cit.

36 Olga Skarlato et al., “Grassroots Peacebuilding in Northern Ireland and the Border Counties: Elements of an Effective Model”, Peace and Conflict Studies [online], vol. 20, n° 1, article 1, url:  http://nsuworks.nova.edu/pcs/vol20/iss1/1 [Accessed 19 February 2020].

37 Matt Jennings, Martin Beirne, Stephanie Knight, “‘Just about coping’: precarity and resilience among applied theatre and community arts workers in Northern Ireland”, Irish Journal of Arts Management & Cultural Policy [online], vol. 4, 2016/1, p. 15, url: https://irishjournalamcp.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/3-jennings_matt.pdf [Accessed 19 February 2020].

38 Anne Marie Gray et al, Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report, Number Five.

39 CAHOOTS NI website, url: http://www.cahootsni.com/ [Accessed 19 March 2019]. For a further discussion of the company’s work, see Tom Maguire, “Beyond the culture of concern”, op. cit., p. 48-50.

40 ACNI, Ambitions for the Arts: A Five Year Strategic Plan for the Arts in Northern Ireland 2013-2018 [online], Belfast, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 2013, p. 10, url: http://www.artscouncil-ni.org/images/uploads/publications-documents/Ambitions-for-the-Arts-5-Year-Strategy.pdf [Accessed 19 February 2020].

41 Sara Keating, “Bringing theatre alive for children with disabilities”, Irish Times [online], 8 March 2016, url: https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/bringing-theatre-alive-for-children-with-disabilities-1.2554433 [Accessed 22 April 2019].

42 Tom Maguire, Accessible theatre-making for spectators with visual impairment: CAHOOTS NI’s The Gift [online], Belfast, CAHOOTS NI, 2015, url: http://uir.ulster.ac.uk/35651/2/Accessible%20Theatre-Making-%20CAHOOTS%20NI%27s%20The%20Gift%20.pdf [Accessed 22 April 2019].

43 Young at Art website, url: https://www.youngatart.co.uk/who-we-are [Accessed 19 March 2019].

44 Sticky Fingers website, url: https://www.stickyfingersarts.co.uk/who-are-sticky-fingers [Accessed 19 March 2019].

45 Small Size website, url: https://www.smallsize.org [Accessed 19 March 2019].

46 Shifra Schonmann, Theatre as a Medium for Children and Young People: Images and Observations, New York, Springer, 2006, p. 20.

47 Laura Lundy, “'Voice' is not enough”, op. cit.

48 Tom Maguire, Accessible theatre-making for spectators, op. cit.

49 Geesche Watermann, “Children as Experts. Contemporary Models and Reasons for Children’s and Young People’s Participation in Theatre”, in: Geesche Watermann, Tülin Saglam and Mary McAvoy (eds), Youth and Performance – Perceptions of the Contemporary Child, Hildesheim, Olms Weidmann, 2015, p. 21-30.

50 Aideen Howard, “Foreword”, in: Deirdre Horgan, Shirley Martin and Annie Cummins-McNamara, An Evaluation of the Operation and Impact of The Ark Children’s Council, Dublin, The Ark, 2019, p. 3.

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Référence électronique

Tom Maguire, « Alternative Worlds: the emergence of Theatre for Young Audiences from the conflict in Northern Ireland. », Strenæ [En ligne], 16 | 2020, mis en ligne le 17 juin 2020, consulté le 10 mai 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/strenae/4728 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/strenae.4728

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Auteur

Tom Maguire

Ulster University
tj.maguire@ulster.ac.uk

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