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Lenine Bourke and Mary Ann Hunter

Platform Paper 26

Young People Transforming Our Theatre

Lenine Bourke and Mary Ann Hunter

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This essay is about generation shift and a new creative force in the Australian theatre. It’s about how young people, children and the theatre artists who work with them are leading the demand for change. Young people get the current shift better than anyone else, say the authors: they’re living it, activating it, and they’re even making money out of it. When it comes to theatre, they want and deserve great work. What if the balance of power was reversed and young people were brought in on the act of transforming our theatre? The aim in this essay is to explore why and how.
The authors examine the rise in youth theatre since the 1970s and the extraordinary breadth and diversity the field now represents. But the work remains marginalised, they say. Directors and workers in the field feel the exclusion too. We need to put some community back into our national theatre industry. After all, isn’t the World Wide Web supposed to be making the arts more democratic?


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About the Author

Lenine Bourke is Executive director of Young People and the Arts Australia, a national advocacy group, and is acknowledged as an outstanding leader who has worked extensively with young people in a broad range of socially and economically diverse communities.

Strong cultural policy plays a pivotal role in positioning young people effectively in the broader cultural industry and Australia’s civic society. Prior to the 1990s, young people were most often represented as ‘in deficit’ in state and national cultural policies and strategies. Children and young people were mostly cast as empty vessels, lacking exposure to the arts, and needing an education. Involvement in the arts was promoted as instrumental to their successful development into well-functioning adults. This was a worthy but ultimately limiting aim that failed to acknowledge young people’s active participation as creative citizens of the now, not just of the future 



Sophie Morstyn and Jessica Wotton are Year 12 students at ascham studying drama and interested in careers in the theatre.

Not Just an Audience: Young People Transforming Our Theatre, the Platform Paper by Lenine Bourke and Mary Ann Hunter, deals with the issue of integrating young people into the construction of relevant, innovative theatre. Technological advancements have offered a new allure to young audiences that has caused a decrease in attendance at live performances and, as dedicated theatre lovers ourselves, we find this a scary thought. This paper asks the question: why is it that what young people have to offer the arts industry is considered less valuable than what current, established practitioners have to say? Youth has quickly become a 'ticka-box priority' and our value to the theatre industry is being discounted. This is one of the major issues addressed in the essay. We are particularly interested in the idea that teachers were being taught to use drama as a pedagogical tool, integrating it into the early life of students. Understanding the purpose of drama is vitally important and by experiencing it in early life will lead to a love and appreciation of live performance later on.

However, one of the intriguing ideas raised by the paper is that theatre should be seen as something separate from education. Theatre's original purpose was to engage audiences, not to be an onerous burden on them. It still is, but unfortunately, today young people seem subconsciously to connect theatre to school and therefore find it less appealing. The authors also suggest a way in which this might be fixed: an event should be created around the show. This would mean that there was a more personal engagement with the idea of theatre, the 'theatre community' would be revived and, to tweak the authors' rhetorical question a little, Might not 'young punters camp out to get their tickets to the next state theatre show as they [do] for the next Big Day Out?'

Schools and theatre companies are also attempting to foster a love of theatre by offering students theatre subscriptions and installing programs such as the YAP (Youth Advisory Panel at Sydney Theatre Company). However the essay's point, that in later life this motivation to see live performances diminishes, is valid. As young theatre-goers, we would welcome a cultural and generational shift towards a more collaborative theatre industry, one that embraces more than simply the ideas of established practitioners and artists. One of the proposed ways of making theatre more accessible to younger audiences that we found exciting was that of 'pop up theatre', because we feel that transitional performance spaces would not only add another level to a production, but enable young minds to assist in professional works.

It seems that often theatre companies use established directors, producers or actors for their productions rather than offering the opportunity to younger, less experienced practitioners whose contribution is seen as less valid. At the Sydney launch of the essay, Jennie Bradbury (Babushka Productions) suggested that 'slippers are our (theatre's) biggest competition', meaning that the older theatre community is becoming too comfortable with the current idea of theatre and that they need to embrace the ideas of younger audience members or practitioners, who could help revive the perception of theatre as an engaging experience. Not Just an Audience is proof that this transition is happening. People such as Lenine Bourke and Mary Ann Hunter are not only identifying the issues that are preventing youth from joining the theatre community, but also proposing solutions, meaning that, as young theatre lovers, we are being offered more opportunities to get involved and help create the future of theatre in Australia.