News from ASSITEJ

ASSITEJ is dedicated to artistic, cultural political and educational efforts and no decision, action or statement of the Association shall be based on nationality, political conviction, cultural identity, ethnicity, or religion.

ASSITEJ promotes international exchange of knowledge and practice in theatre in order to increase creative co-operation and to deepen mutual understanding between all persons involved in the performing arts for young audiences.

Theatre for children and young people is a richly diverse field, and ASSITEJ embraces that diversity in its ethos and intent. To reflect some of that diversity, we have asked our Executive Committee to take it in turns to write an opener to the monthly newsletter, so as to have tastes of the views, challenges and dreams of our members from across the globe.

I’m writing this from our ASSITEJ SA office in Vrygrond, Cape Town, a township close to the coast, where despite the beautiful landscape, children and young people are plagued by a host of problems ranging from unemployed parents, drug-dealers pushing ‘tik’, a 25% HIV infection rate, crime and pollution. Out the window I can hear a charismatic preacher advertising church services over a loudhailer and the sound of children playing in the streets – largely because there are few other places for them to play.

It’s in this context that we are trying to get buy in to the global campaign ASSITEJ has started around World Day for Theatre for Children and Young People: “Take a child to the theatre today”! But how do we convince people of the importance of theatre when stomachs are empty? How do we get parents to pay for theatre when they are not able to pay for school shoes? If we get sponsors to give away free tickets, does this not result in building a non-paying theatre culture in the future? How do we ensure that we don’t end up devaluing theatre in the eyes of our prospective audience? This situation is not unique to South Africa; it is something theatre-makers face all over the world. Here we are practising a “pay what you can” approach, supplemented by corporate funding. We want to build a future audience, one that appreciates and values theatre, that seeks it out, and that is willing to pay for it, in order to ensure that the work is sustainable. But if we ignore the economic realities, we continue to practice a kind of apartheid, where theatre is only accessible to the rich (largely, but not only, white) population…

So who pays for children to see theatre is an important question for us. Often those who pay also get to set the agenda for what is seen, and that too is problematic. We want to give access to theatre for every child in our country, but how best do we do this? We’d love to hear your creative responses to this issue.