'The Theatre of Children and Children's Theatre' (Cristina Gottfridsson, Sweden)
I have written a minimum of twenty plays for children. From a child’s perspective, but with a mature artist’s complete battery of considerations and decisions. All the aesthetic decisions, the gender conscious, the provocative, the self-censoring (Please no! – The bad reviews!) the pedagogical (shame on you!!). Important decisions. Insane decisions. We’re even serious when we’re joking, that’s the way it is with humorists. We break taboos, we destroy clichés, we hate any adult who lets them down, lets the children down. And we do it alone, because there are few forums in which we can share our experiences. Share the criteria that define our work. We know them. Those of us who create artistic, quality theatre for children know them.
Recently an elementary school class asked me to write a manuscript with them. Their very own play. It became (naturally) a real play. But the criteria were different, because the kids themselves made all the decisions. That was the first criteria. Three girls played elves, three boys played mafia gangsters, one girl was a ghost and a boy was the prince in shining armour. They are eleven and twelve years old. One girl suggested that a mafia guy falls in love with an elf, but the answer was uuggghhh! No romance! That became the second criteria. But hunting, yes, as well as treachery, blood, friendship, violence, fire and magic. No stops.
These children are hearing impaired. Two have Swedish as their mother language, after that the linguistic environment defies description. It includes Polish, Serbian, Arabic and Swedish sign. Written in Swedish, our play was forty pages long. I knew which children had trouble speaking. I could steer things, I could make pedagogical adjustments, give longer, more complicated lines to those who normally don’t dare to speak, because an actor with low status can give a character, or their actions, a higher status. Just an example. The normal artistic, quality conscious, gender aware criteria were things I had to toss out the window. The artistic, quality conscious, diversity aware perspectives were similarly out of place. Because guess which kids wanted to play the Mafia guys? I mean, tell me the name a country where Mafia guys don’t exist.
It was an exhilarating project. With different criteria. The play is called "A Ring of Cannibals". Dear, sweet artistic directors, those of you who might read these words, despite the fact that they address children’s theatre: the day the mafia, the elves, the ghosts, the princes and the cannibals are allowed to walk the boards of your stage, I would love to be the one who writes that play. At a theatre, for children.