The 20th March is World Day of Theatre for Children and Young People with its annual call to ‘Take a Child to the Theatre’ and an opportunity to celebrate all the brilliant theatre experiences available for young audiences across the globe.
But this year is different. Rather than celebrate together, our theatres are closed and we must distance ourselves in order to protect the most vulnerable. Closing a theatre (albeit temporarily and for all the right reasons) is sad and difficult.
Just over two years ago Theatre Hullabaloo had the joyful pleasure of opening The Hullabaloo, our beautiful purpose-designed theatre for children and families, which presents world-class theatre for young audiences, free creative play installations and a packed programme of activities for families.
Since we opened we have welcomed more than 52,000 people through the doors and many brilliant artists and companies from around the world. The Hullabaloo is a place where people come together; to play and to learn, to be inspired, provoked, challenged, amused and entertained. Our youngest audience member so far has been just five hours old, our oldest 103 years old.
Since we closed we have had emails and stories of the sadness people feel at the loss of opportunities for them and their children – the grandparent of the child with autism disappointed that they can’t bring her to the theatre next month for the first time as a birthday treat, the toddler who visits every day and pressed his face against the window just to check there was nobody else in there playing, the 9 year old who has been counting the sleeps until she got to meet Baba Yaga…
…and whilst these anecdotes catch our breath and we feel a moment of sadness it is good to remember that the work we do is valued by the people we do it for. We are missed.
Nobody knows what the new ‘normal’ will be when we all emerge from the battle against Covid-19. There will undoubtedly be huge structural changes, loss of lives and livelihoods and damage to the psyche of a society that has been so brutally exposed to its own vulnerability. People will need to come together to make sense and make meaning. I am confident that some of the best equipped and most brilliant people to do this are children and artists – we look forward to being a space where that can happen.
For now, we must journey in our imaginations, meet on digital plains and remember that it is play and not ‘the play’ that is the thing.
And when the world discovers its new normal and theatres like The Hullabaloo open their doors again, please come and visit us, take a child to the theatre – we’re going to need each other more than ever.
Miranda Thain is Chief Executive & Artistic Producer of Theatre Hullabaloo