Last thursday was ‘The Future Playground’ a conference organised by Fevered Sleep, a trailblazing company that makes beautiful work for children. The conference investigated just where we are with arts for children. Our lovely board member, Ian Jeanes went on our behalf and here’s what he thought:
I awoke on Thursday morning at a respectable eight-thirty and easily shook the drowsiness from my body. Every morning this week I had been unable to pull myself from the rapture of sleep that pinned me to the bed. Perhaps I had been overtired, restless and eager to find more purpose and the gentle melody of my alarm had failed to shock my nerves enough, but this morning that same alarm was merely confirmation that I had only been half-asleep but half-enlivened by excitement. Today I was representing a theatre company that exceeds my own expectations of the collaborative force of movement and music. I was to be the face of Filament Theatre, the ears of a unique art form and the eyes of an adult experiencing all that was right and wrong with arts for children. Today was The Future Playground event in Manchester.
As a trustee of Filament Theatre Company and their online mediator, I was asked by Osnat Schmool and Sabina Netherclift or SabNat as they’ve come to be known since they worked together in 1998, to take their place at The Future Playground conference where producers, programmers and artists alike would be gathering to discuss the future of children’s art – a subject that I knew little about until I was given the download from SabNat.
It turns out that art for children, which is everything from still-life to theatre, is extremely difficult art to make because often the quality is foregone at the sake of expense and the reputation for making art for children is poor. There is a breakdown between production and artistry. Some believe that children’s theatre has to be cheaply produced in order to achieve a return on the ticket sales as it is hard to market. The reality is the risk factor in making art for children and subsequently putting it into venues is too high. Such perceptions are twisted, pessimistic and, I hate to say it, adult! Children take risks without question. Curiosity and a thirst for knowledge is what makes a child more vulnerable to life but their imaginations are untainted, underestimated and unlimited. This should be accepted and exploited. Children have to have access to their imagination and be granted time to do it as often as possible.
At the centre of my own pursuit for understanding this alarming and awakening reality is the book that I have just read – Momo (which actually has an unbelievably long title in its original German form: “Momo oder Die seltsame Geschichte von den Zeit-Dieben und von dem Kind, das den Menschen die gestohlene Zeit zurückbrachte”). A captivating story by Michael Ende, it forces you to understand childhood and the importance of the time we have. In the story, there are devious characters called the Men in Grey who convince members of the village to deposit their time using time-saving devices, such as machines that produce things en masse. This impacts their lives for the seemingly better however the Men in Grey are actually taking the time away from them. Saving in the short-term to lose in the long-term.
What is so epic about this story is that the children are the hardest to convince because they relish ‘wasting’ their time and spend their time doing recreational and creative things. Momo, who foils the plans of the Men in Grey, is actually the personification of what I believe is missing in society. Listening! The arrival of instant media and the development of real-time communication mean that we are all moving too fast and need gratification instantly. What Momo represents is the ability to sit down and really listen to each other. To let our stories flourish, take time and care over our words and learn what really matters about each other. Something I am very much guilty of neglecting. Even as an advocate of social media and all the joys of instant-messaging, this story has made me appreciate what it is to make time for me and share those precious minutes, hours or days doing whatever I want! Finding the time to write this blog for example. Something that we believe we just don’t have time for. The next time you’re presence is requested instantly – phone-call, text, email, tweet – just think: “I’ll be with you in a Momo!”
The point I’m trying to make in this rather convoluted explosion of words is that inside all of us, we have put our child to bed and if we want a better future for our children and, indeed, a better future for ourselves, we have to wake our inner-children from slumber and celebrate our youth. The only way we can create better art for our children and our children’s children is if we reconnect with our stories and experiences and make time to listen to our indulgences. Let’s take risks like our children would. Let’s leap farther. Tumble harder. Climb higher. We should because we are all younger than someone else. We are all of us children!