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It’s time to fight for children’s theatre

Guest blogger Gill Robertson on why cuts to companies like Catherine Wheels are a threat to world class drama, great storytelling – and young people’s imaginations

"Children need to go to the theatre as much as they need to run about in the fresh air. They need to hear real music played by real musicians on real instruments as much as they need food and drink. They need to read and listen to proper stories as much as they need to be loved and cared for. The difficulty with persuading grown-up people about this is that if you deprive children of shelter and kindness and food and drink and exercise, they die visibly; whereas if you deprive them of art and music and story and theatre, they perish on the inside, and it doesn't show." 
Philip Pullman, writer

I’m Gill Robertson, Artistic Director of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company. Catherine Wheels is based in Musselburgh and tour theatre to schools, village halls, community venues and theatres across Scotland and around the world. I am passionate about children’s theatre. Yes, I am nearly 50 and have been making work for over 20 years. But the challenge of creating thrilling, moving and engaging shows that means something to children hasn’t lessened.

As Philip Pullman states beautifully above, “children need theatre as much as they need to run about in the fresh air”. I believe this is true, but then I would say that. But touring into schools and having a child quoting lines to you, lines to a show that you performed in that same school two years before, must mean that theatre makes an impact. Especially performances in schools, where it is so close and there’s no blackout, so you can see the audience as well as the show. I have witnessed children emotional and crying while watching a show, go to their teacher for comfort only to find that their teacher is also crying. In theatre we watch together and feel together. And for children, especially when they come with their families or carers, it is this shared experience which is important.

However now our funders, Creative Scotland, have told us that from April 2019 we will no longer be a Regularly Funded Organisation. The world class work that we produce, the other artists and organisations that we support and the thousands of children across Scotland that we reach will be no more. In 17-18 we will have performed to more than 37,000 children across the world and reached more than 13,000 Scottish schoolchildren; but this will end. This is a great shame, but of course I would say that. It’s my passion and my life’s work. However, the Open Letter published in support Catherine Wheels and signed by over 150 people working in Scottish Theatre suggests that my feelings are shared:

The value of this company to the artistic community cannot be underestimated. Catherine Wheels has spent 20 years honing the skills needed to support, nurture and inspire one of the most imaginative and thrilling audiences there is: young people and their adults. To consistently serve and challenge this audience and respond creatively to their emotional, social and imaginative needs; to take their lives and stories seriously and respond with work that is as sophisticated and complex as they are.

_____________

Extract from the open letter included in articles in The Scotsman, The Herald and The National this week

When I heard the news last week it felt like a death. And as we moved into battle mode, ready to campaign and fight for the company, I wrote this poem. The words were the basis of a short film we made this week with 15 children saying a line each. The film is to be released as our final battle cry. I only hope we don’t need to.

I don’t need my imagination

It’s not important to me

I don’t want stories

I don’t want to be thrilled

I don’t want to fly

That cardboard box is just a cardboard box

What’s the point of snow anyway?

I want to keep my head down

Never look up

I want to be less than I thought I could be

I don’t want to hear about other people’s lives

I only care about my place in the world

Lock the doors and close the windows

Put my imagination away, I don’t need it

I don’t need theatre

It’s not important to me.

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