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Regional Reviews | Young People and the Arts: The Child as Cultural Citizen Forum

On Wednesday 30 May, representatives from Regional Arts NSW, including new Board Director Sarah Parsons (Outback Theatre for Young People) attended Young People and the Arts: The Child as Cultural Citizen, a forum responding to the recent platform paper by Sue Giles, published by Currency House.
The forum challenged the prescribed notions of theatre for young people, and asked “can we consider the child as cultural citizen?”
Sue Giles’ stirring keynote centred on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the need to place children and young people as central participants in changes to the youth theatre sector. Highlighting the difficult and necessary relationships between adults and children in the sector, Sue brought to the fore the difficulties of securing funding and communicating the cultural value of children’s theatre to the uninterested adult gatekeeper.
Partner updates from Jane Kreis (Theatre Network New South Wales) and Elizabeth Hill (Create NSW) provided insight into movement in the sector to address the growing and changing needs of youth theatre, but perhaps most stirring was the sector updates from young people themselves in a ‘Young Firecrackers’ session. Alexandra Mangano (Trajectory Ensemble, Tantrum Arts), and Iris Simpson, Grace Campbell, Sylvie Woodhouse and Emily Pincock (The House That Dan Built) articulated the importance of theatre and access to the arts as their role as cultural citizens, asserting the value of their cultural contributions and describing the incredible impact the arts has made in their lives and careers. Eva Di Cesare from Monkey Baa Theatre played the voices of children discussing their participation at Monkey Baa, and Sara Mansour represented youth from Real Talk and Bankstown Poetry Slam, discussing the difference poetry has made in the lives of school-age youth in Western Sydney.
The evening concluded with an Industry Panel called Whose Theatre Is It Anyway?, with Tasnim Hossain (Writer), Amy Matthews (Parramatta Riverside Theatres), Stefo Nantsou (Zeal Theatre) and Sarah Parsons (Outback Theatre for Young People, Regional Arts NSW). Moderated by Sue Giles, the panel discussed the current funding landscape for youth theatre, with some spirited discussion about the relationship between commercial and not-for-profit theatre, as well as producers and presenters. As a sector, more discussion about what is defined as ‘young’ was clearly needed, with some organisations defining young as old as 25 years old. Members of the panel held differing views of what age range was ‘young’ and time constraints meant this issue was never fully resolved. Perhaps in future discussions, the role of social and economic shifts are seeing the definition of a ‘young person’ expand.
In her opening speech and during the panel, Sarah Parsons raised important points about the challenges working in regional, rural and remote NSW, and the importance of community and local government support in communicating cultural value. She discussed Outback Theatre for Young People’s experience in empowering young people through administrative roles in the organisation, and the panel largely agreed that young people in governance positions was necessary for the sector to to meet the evolving needs of children and youth.
It was an engaging evening full of plenty of discussion and debate that continued on into drinks long after the end of the last session. Overall, the forum demonstrated a need for the sector to congregate at more forums like this one and work collaboratively, both as organisations and with young people, to better communicate and define the future for these cultural citizens.
The spirit of the evening was perhaps best summarised by Sarah herself; “The theatre belongs to the empowered young artists. The world belongs to the empowered young person.”
And from the sound of the Young Firecrackers, what a vibrant world that could be.