Ever engaging, ever provocative Currency House’s Platform papers are an invaluable source of information, encouragement, cultural dreaming and just the right amount of intellectual dissent – and Number 26 “Not Just an Audience- Young People Transforming Our Theatre” isn’t any different. Written by Lenine Bourke, executive Director of Young People and the Arts Australia, and Dr Mary Ann Hunter researcher, consultant and Tasmanian based arts worker – this paper is a forward looking examination of the issues surrounding Young people in the arts. Choosing to examine the field in relationship to the wider artistic field (incorporating arts in Australia) and surrounding social contexts (politics and the GFC) placing youth at the centre of the debate and breaking it into four major points – technology, access, money and cultural authority. It is true that children are the future and their methods of interaction (with each other and the world) and their creation and consumption of at threaten conventional/traditional theatrical experience.

Interestingly this paper raises many issues which are big picture issues – not confined and restrained to The Youth Arts sector. I have always held the belief that a society which doesn’t listen to it’s young people is in danger of becoming irrelevant and boring (and in the modern age of art making, being boring is to be irrelevant) and it is true that at the moment the primary mode of artistic engagement is through online platforms – what does this mean to theatre? If theatre’s role is to bring a community together to discuss and expose ideas – and the role of online platforms is the same – will one replace the other – especially when the online option is cheaper, and less in convenient. This paper also asks the question of young people as audiences – though they are facilitated and driven to participate in their schooling years there is a huge drop off in participation in theatre- as work and study and life takes young people over. Why is that? Why are young people not attending theatre as much as they had previously? And as technology takes over theatre increasingly becomes a more expensive, less accessible art form competing with less expensive platforms -what is it about theatre making which can attract and retain the interest when it is expensive, transient and difficult to access? Additionally, who are the cultural leaders of the youth arts sector – are they empowering young people or are they frightened of the potential power, vision, innovation, energy that young people have – do these arts administrators fear a mutiny by the youth.

I hope so.

I am on the Board of Directors of Shopfront : Contemporary Arts and Performance Centre in Carlton Sydney whereby the young people are a part of a co-operative and who decide the direction of the company – they even were instrumental in deciding the new Artistic Directors Caitlin Newton-Broad and Howard Matthew – they have ownership of the company – as they should. Jacques Copeau believed that theatre belongs in the hands of the young. They are the innovators – they have to – oftentimes the young are left without any sense of authority. Sometimes the creative direction of an arts company can be more about the artistic agenda of the adults running the show, than it is about the participants. It can also be about making sure the creative hierarchy is maintained and that the experienced artist is paid and at the top of the creative tree, whilst all the youth artists are paying for the privilege.

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe in mentors and I believe that everyone needs to learn from someone – it is the tone and style in which cultural leadership takes place that I question – I believe that young and emerging artists (or all disciplines and backgrounds) have something to teach the establishment, the funding bodies and the artists who live and breath and make right now – we ignore them at our peril. Bourke and Hunter are right to draw our attention to the issues facing the sector especially as we can now see three year old operating i-phones and young children engaging with facebook and spending alot of their spare time online or on social networking sites. It may be that i was without a mobile phone until I was 21, and I didn’t own a computer until I was 25 – I generally favour analogue (my watch is a Seiko 5 – and there is nothing electronic about my car) – but this near-Amish way of living is nearly completely rare in modern society – as such it is time for us to ask how the generation who is familiar and fed on electrical “gadgets” (as we old folks say) going to shape, change and transform theatre as we know it…

And that is what this platform paper is about.

And all of Bourke and Hunter’s ideas/issues/observations on youth arts culminate in a series of questions – starting with a “What if…”
* the Australian professional theatre community let go of out-moded idea that children’s and young people’s work serves as a stepping stone to the serious stuff of he national theatre industry?
* children and young people were more than a tick-a-box-priority?
* the theatre sector acknowledged the ways in which youth arts practitioners have already cultivated the kinds of well functioning professional development networks and collaborations it yearns for?
* the Australian theatre industry recognised that young artists and the leading edge of international and Australian youth specific performance have a lot to offer adult audiences and can signal vital new trends?
*young punters camped out to get their tickets to the next state theatre show as they might for the next big day out?
*Quite Simply – What if young people were brought in on the act of transforming Australian theatre?

Questions worth asking and a paper definitely worth reading. Grab a copy –