How children's theatre saved my love of classical music

I’m so pleased you’ve opened this, my first revamped blog!  MishMash Productions is an emerging music driven theatre company changing the way classical music is presented to family and young audiences.

I would like to share a story with you about how children’s theatre changed my life.  It all started one morning on the way to school……

 
Ben and MeV1.jpg
 

‘Mummy’ says Ben one morning on the way to school, ‘don’t get any more tickets to stuff, will you?’  

‘Why’ says the slightly saddened cultural omnivore that Ben has for a mother.  

‘Because I don’t like it’.  

‘Oh, ok’ I respond, ‘what particularly don’t you like? Do you like the dance?’, 

‘yes’ comes the answer, 

‘Do you like the acting’, 

‘yes’ again confirms B. 

‘What about the music?’ comes a slightly desperate voice. 

‘No’ states Ben confidently, ‘I don’t like the music, it’s boring’. 

 
SleepyGirlGraphic.jpg

And at that my soul shrinks and my heart skips a beat.  Music is the art-form that speaks to me most coherently - both intimate and collective at the same time, drawing me into a world where I’m both a cherished individual and an invaluable cog in a much bigger wheel.  But this is obviously not something that is readily communicated to your average 5 year old.  So what are we doing wrong…….

Speed up a terrifying 5 years, 1 Arts Council England (ACE) funded research project, 2 ACE funded new productions and 3 ACE funded national tours later and I think I’m starting to find the answer!

The MishMash Journey

So what was the trigger for the last 5 years that I have spent listening, watching, cogitating and then finally making (I must just add here, Award Winning) work?  It was the conclusion that we are missing a trick. 

There is a very vibrant professional theatre scene in the UK and beyond catering specifically for young audiences, and exciting developments within the professional dance sector.  However promoters seem unable to present professional music programmes in the same way (as the then 5 year old Ben would agree). 

There are plenty of participatory opportunities for the under 10s but very little that caters for the very young as an audience. 

My extensive research with venues and programmers has identified that this is not due to a lack of interest on the part of promoters but a lack of quality product.  Venues across the country are full of professional chamber, folk, world, early, jazz and contemporary music groups but very few of them choose to or are able to produce programmes specifically for the very young.

Music is an intimate art-form which is part of the magic of it.  The audience is witnessing something very personal to the performer.  The trick is to acknowledge this but in doing so not distance the audience. 

Harnessing the magic of classical music in a way that our youngest audiences can access is difficult.  As a sector classical music has yet to fully embrace the potential afforded them by young audiences, particularly in small and medium sized venues.  Instead the offer is dominated by a rather old-fashioned approach hinged on audience participation between short pieces of standard repertoire delivered in huge, formal concert halls.   

Whilst a valuable part of what should be a diverse offer, this approach hasn’t changed much from the 1950s and there could be so much more!

There are a few companies breathing new life into the approach with thoughtfully developed, high quality productions performed by a new breed of portfolio musicians equipped with more diverse performance skills.  However largely the opportunity lies untapped.

Programme2.jpg

Theatre just does it better!

Theatre provides huge inspiration in the way work for young audiences is nurtured and valued by the industry, not just for the economic potential but also for the intrinsic value it adds to the cultural offer. 

The best theatre for young audiences relies on the charisma of the performers and the intimate relationship between them and the tiniest babies and children.  In the best work the production values are faultless with attention to every single element by a company of diverse experts including not just the performer but writers, directors, dramaturgs and designers if not more.  The subject of work is devised in detail, based on universal themes and developed specifically for the individual audience.

A New Approach – The MishMash Method!

It is possible to learn from the collaborative, developmental approach taken by many specialist theatre companies to work collectively with musicians, composers, theatre directors and designers to devise work especially for this audience. 

There is the potential to cultivate a new approach applying elements of theatre to music and developing work imaginatively with careful thought given to presentation, structure, setting and content to better reflect the motivations and interests of the child, but always keeping the power of music at the centre.

Next time I’ll share some of our learning about methodology – what happens when you bring some of the best classically trained musicians and plop them into a theatre environment!

For more information on our work and our wonderful productions Hubbub: A Musical Adventure and Smile please click below. 

 
 

In the meantime if you'd like to read more on this subject from eminent Danish researcher Jesper Gottlieb or Belgian producer Wouter Van Looy see the links below:

https://yamspace.org/toolkit/mind-the-gap

https://yamspace.org/toolkit/wouter-van-looys-five-principles

If you’d like to tell me how theatre changed your life please join the conversation on twitter @MishMashLiz or #thereslifeinclassicalmusicyet #newaudiencesforclassicalmusic #childrenstheatrechangedmylife #beyondtheconcerthall