Writing For Children (2005)

This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the introduction to Plays For Children 2.

After thirty years writing exclusively for adults, it was only in 1988 that I began seriously to consider the prospect of creating something specifically for a younger audience. I sensed a gap at the time that I felt badly needed addressing - namely, that there was precious little `serious' theatre writing being done for younger children either for them to watch or to perform. Apart from any other consideration I became conscious, too, as the long serving artistic director of a regional company, that as a result of this neglect we were actively discouraging our future audience. I set about trying to remedy this. Fifteen years and a dozen plays later, I have had no regrets. Frankly, the rewards of such writing (when you manage to pull it off!) beat anything you're ever going to get from the most elevated West End opening. The theatrical act of live performance, that special moment of `now' when live actor meets audience is unique in any circumstance; in children's theatre it is intensified tenfold. They become almost tangible, those threads of trust woven between the two parties, as the performer presents, demands, persuades and cajoles the spectators, drawing them into the web of narrative and character which the author has created. Yet this strength is also brittle. One false step in performance, one small, untruthful concession to the pre-established rules and all is lost - sometimes for ever. Quick curtain - home time. Theatre, particularly amongst our national leaders all of whom are old enough to know better, has seemingly been dismissed as irrelevant to the upbringing of our bright young twenty-first- century high-tech children. I believe, on the contrary, that the reverse is true. Live theatre is more, much, much more important than it has ever been. True, we have achieved technological miracles with the graphics and sound which fill all our screens - images that are sometimes literally jaw dropping. But in the end these are, after all, the finite imaginings of others not ourselves. There isn't, at the end of it, very much left for us to do. Instead, we become reactive rather than inter-reactive. Like a puzzle book with all the answers printed next to the questions, there is never a moment when we are asked if we would like to contribute. It has all been decided long ago by people we will never meet, living in places we are probably never likely to visit. Whatever happened to the infinitely possible? Which is why I welcome this latest book. Here are four plays that don't, indeed cannot, provide all the answers. Varied, exciting, adventurous in their horizons, they wait, expectantly like good plays should, now passive texts, for the moment to activate, the instant when performer meets audience and the air will once again be thick with wondrous imaginings for both. It's a magic time. Treasure it.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.