This afternoon, the 20th June we held our Annual General Meeting at the House of Lords. At the close of the meeting, Vicky Ireland MBE announced that our Chair, David Wood OBE will be stepping down after nearly twenty years of outstanding service. We are so grateful to David for all his hard work representing ACA and are thrilled that he has accepted a new role as President of the charity.
Furthermore, we are pleased to announce that David will be the 2017 recipient of the JM Barrie Award! This award has previously honoured prestigious recipients such as Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE and Sir Quentin Blake CBE. It is our immense pleasure to present this award to David, whose tireless work in children’s arts has inspired and influenced so many across generations.
We have already received signatures from the following MPs:
Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen (Labour)
Kevin Brennan, MP for Cardiff West (Labour)
Sarah Champion, MP for Rotheram (Labour)
Vernon Coaker, MP for Gedling (Labour)
Alex Cunningham, MP for Stockton North (Labour)
David Drew, MP for Stroud (Labour)
Mark Field, MP for Cities of London and Westminster (Conservative)
Vicky Ford, MP for Chelmsford (Conservative)
Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland (Labour)
Luke Graham, MP for Ochil & South Perthshire (Conservative)
Nia Griffith, MP for Llanelli (Labour)
Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon (Conservative)
Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood (Labour)
George Howarth, MP for Knowsley (Labour)
Christine Jardine, MP for Edinburgh West (Liberal Democrat)
Jeremy Lefroy, MP for Stafford (Conservative)
Chris Leslie, MP for Nottingham East (Labour)
Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham (Conservative)
Laura Pidcock, MP for North West Durham (Labour)
David Simpson, MP for Upper Ban (DUP)
Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds Northwest (Labour)
Nick Thomas-Symonds, MP for Torfaen (Labour)
Derek Twigg, MP for Halton (Labour)
Giles Watling, MP for Clacton (Conservative)
If your MP is not on this list, please do write to them on our behalf as the message is always more powerful from a constituent. Our letter can be downloaded by clicking here. If you need help finding your MP’s contact details, please tweet us @childrensarts.
Action for Children’s Arts is a national membership organisation embracing all professionals working in children’s arts and all those who share our beliefs. It is dedicated to the promotion, development and celebration of all creative and performing arts for and with children.
In conversation at Oxford’s Story Museum, the veteran writer and actor reveals how to win over the world’s toughest audience. Original source, Oxford Today.
Putting on a children’s play ‘is far more difficult than Shakespeare’. That’s the view of David Wood OBE — a man who has been called Britain’s national children’s dramatist — after 50 years creating many of the best-loved children’s plays. In conversation with journalist Libby Purves at the Oxford Story Museum, he said the vast majority of actors would find performing in front of a big audience of children far too frightening. Children are ‘volatile and very difficult. They have no theatre manners.’
But the fact that children don’t clap politely like adults when they’re unimpressed is exactly what drives him. ‘If you ask me why I do it, [the children] are the challenge,’ he said. ‘When you get it right, they’re the most rewarding of all. If they’re quiet, they’re listening, and then you’ve won — and that’s a huge triumph. I find adult audiences very boring.’ He summed it up, ‘My job is to stop children wanting to go to the loo.’
As an actor, Wood (Worcester, 1963) is best known for playing Johnny in the 1968 film If. But as a writer, his adaptations of classics — from The BFG and The Witches by Roald Dahl to Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce to The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr and Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll — have enchanted generations of children, as have his screenplays, which include adaptations of Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome and Back Home by Michelle Magorian. He had written plays for adults, such as The Go-Between, based on L.P. Hartley’s novel. And he’s the author of many original children’s plays and books, most famous of which is The Gingerbread Man.
But keeping small bottoms on seats is hardly straightforward. Wood (right) has learned that if adults in rehearsals think part of the script is hilarious, children in the audience probably won’t. And children consider themselves part of the action, exploding through the fourth wall. In one performance of The Gingerbread Man, an actor foolishly paused for breath after delivering the phrase ‘something to make him freeze’ and children started shouting ‘ice’ and simply would not stop, leaving the cast on stage confounded. Wood considers it part of his job when writing plays to anticipate what the audience will say, and when, and their words are printed as part of his scripts.
Another pivotal realisation for Wood came after he heard of a conversation a mother had with her daughter when the child said she liked a book. The mother asked why, and the daughter replied: ‘Lots of suddenlys.’ ‘That, to me, was magic,’ said Wood. ‘It transformed what I was doing in play writing.’ He started writing with ‘suddenlys’ on every page — from a phone ringing to a change in lighting or music to a new character to a ‘new sting’ in plot.
Wood focuses solely on entertaining the children, not their parents. ‘I don’t think of the adults at all. Taking children to the theatre is a nightmare. The adults will enjoy it if the child enjoys it.’ And he has found a number of things children usually enjoy. Humour, of course; changes in scale from the miniature to the giant; and animals.
But also children are profoundly interested in ‘injustice’. Wood explained: ‘I believe we are all born with an innate sense of justice. The first thing a child learns to say is “It’s not fair”. That relates very much to storytelling — a child will root for an animal character who is mute and can’t defend itself, or Cinderella.’ Roald Dahl, he noted, was a genius in creating child protagonists who face a world with all odds stacked against them. Parents are, in several Dahl novels, killed at the start of the story, leaving the child to cope alone.
There can be an edge of tremendous sadness in children’s literature and Wood’s plays don’t shy away from showing, for instance, the horrors of war, in his staging of Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian. In the film of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, the boy who has been turned into a mouse by evil witches is turned back into a boy again. But in the novel, and in Wood’s adaptation, the boy is left as a mouse. Films often seek to sanitise the sharp edges of children’s literature with happy endings, Wood noted, and commercial pressures currently threaten original children’s drama in Britain. ‘Everyone wants the big title,’ he said — big musicals or films of bestselling novels are what gets commissioned. But ‘a lot of the best work is small scale’.
‘Terrifyingly’, as Wood put it, Winnie-the-Pooh is now owned by Disney. When Wood was planning a show celebrating children’s literature for the Queen’s 80th birthday in 2006, he wanted to bring the three famous bears together — Pooh, Rupert and Paddington. The people who own the rights for Rupert and Paddington agreed, but, he recounted, Disney took months to consider and ultimately refused to allow Pooh to appear next to the other bears. They eventually specified that the show could go on if there was a fence built around Pooh; the other bears could wave at him from a distance. And that is what Wood had to work around.
David Wood’s theatre career was already flourishing during his time as an undergraduate at Oxford in the mid-1960s, reading English. Having loved performing puppet shows and magic acts as a child, he credits his admission to Oxford by Christopher Ricks to his prowess as a magician. ‘At the end of my three years I said to him: “Why me? I’m not the greatest student and I did more theatre than I’d ever have done at drama school,’ Wood told Oxford Today. ‘He said that it was my magic that got me in; I’d been so passionate about it at my interview; he had small children and thought I’d be useful to have around. I did his children’s parties.’
While ‘scraping through’ his degree at Oxford — as he puts it in his seminal book Theatre for Children — Wood acted, directed and wrote for about three shows a term. He was an active member of the Oxford University Dramatic Society and the Experimental Theatre Club, performing not only at venues like the Oxford Playhouse but the West End and the Edinburgh festival.
One particular show he saw as a student, at Oxford’s New Theatre, proved an epiphany. It was a big commercial pantomime of Peter Pan, a book Wood had adored since childhood. The star turn cracked an adult joke over the children’s heads and then said to the parents in the audience: ‘Oh, come on, let’s get the kids out of here and then we can get started!’ For a blushing and irritated Wood, ‘It was as though an electric shock had jolted me.’ He thought: ‘Surely those children deserved better. It struck me that there was very little theatre aimed at children.’ That moment was a turning point in Wood’s life — and he has carried his respect for children throughout his career.
Throughout this 2017 election campaign we have been reaching out to children and young people across the country, asking them to send in their thoughts on how MPs should pledge to protect children’s arts for the future. Below is the pledge that we have created from their contributions:
In creating the future, we ask you to recognise:
The importance of early-years (children and infants aged 0-5).
That play is an essential part of education, ensuring good physical and mental health in our children.
That the arts are the principal trainers of the imagination.
The need to listen to and talk with children when making political decisions that affect their futures.
It is every child’s right, every day, to have time to create, imagine and play.
We will be sending this pledge to every elected MP in the country, asking them to write back and state their commitment to children’s arts during their time in office. ACA will be issuing a list of supporting MPs to several press organisations and media outlets at the time of it’s AGM, which will be held on Tuesday 20th June 2017 at the House of Lords.
If you would like to attend and are a member, please RSVP to the invitation in your inbox. If you would like to attend and are not a member, you can join at childrensarts.org.uk/join
National charity Action for Children’s Arts is inviting children and young people from across the country to send in a pledge for children’s arts.
Submissions will be used to compile a short pledge-card. This will be issued to politicians nationwide in the run up to the General Election, asking them to guarantee their commitment to providing a future for children’s arts in the UK. Participants can either send in a written or recorded/filmed pledge. Our favourite entries will be compiled into a sound-bite to help spread the message.
Here is an example to get you started: “Every child, every year: a play, a concert, a gallery, a museum.”
WE WELCOME SUBMISSIONS FROM ANYONE AGED 16 OR UNDER. CLOSING DATE IS 7PM ON MONDAY 8 MAY 2017.
How to get involved:
Write 25 words that you think make a strong, snappy statement in support of all children in the UK having the chance to watch and participate in creative activities such as music, art, drama or dance.
Create a 15 second audio recording or film that makes a bold statement in support of all children in the UK having the chance to watch and participate in creative activities such as music, art, drama or dance.
It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the death of TYA practitioner, Tony Gouveia. Tony was part of TYA and ASSITEJ UK for many years and recently became an Adviser for ACA. He was unique, hugely talented, charismatic and caring. He was greatly loved and will be sorely missed.
TYA UK and ACA representatives attended his funeral. Here is a remembrance from his great friend and work colleague, David Johnston. Please click here to read it.
There will be a memorial for him in July, at the Arcola Theatre.
Taking part in any of the arts means ‘making and doing’. This involves taking materials, ideas, thoughts and feelings from our experience and changing them. You can do this having apprenticed yourself for many years to the best practitioners of that art,
you can do it by studying that art, but there are also ways of taking part in some arts very simply and easily following what is already there, or someone who shows us how. This last way of working means that taking part in the arts is available to all. It mean that anyone in any situation can experience what it means to transform materials, ideas, thoughts and feelings and in so doing transform a part of themselves.
This is one of the ways in which we have discovered how to investigate the world around us and our place in it. A school curriculum always includes subjects which are concerned about the world but it’s not often easy for such subjects to include the child and that child’s place in it. Whether a child is doing pottery, performing a part in a play, taking photos or any art – these will involve the child finding a place for themselves in relation to that material, that view, those lines from a play or poem. Surrounding this activity there will be thought and conversation. These will nearly always involve this ‘positioning’ – “where am I in relation to this stuff?’
We make the plea that children should have time and space to do this as part of their emotional, social and intellectual development. Part of education must be about ‘where am I in this world?’
Doing such things may lead to professional careers, they may enable children to be more confident and willing learners, they may provide potential activities for people for the rest of their lives. All these are valuable outcomes. However, we would do well to remember that children are human beings and are not half-human beings waiting to be grown-ups. As human beings they are entitled to have time and space to reflect on this matter of who they are in the world.
We see a great danger in thinking of education purely and simply in terms of national or international test scores. Such scores can only tell us what kind of teaching most suits that kind of test. It doesn’t tell us about anything that is not tested or cannot be tested. Yet, questions of how can I affect this material (clay, or words, or the body, for example) are crucial to how we proceed in this world. It is not sufficiently useful to simply know the world or to be able to describe it. We have to know why we are changing the world – for the good or the bad? We have to be in a position in which we can come up with ideas for improving people’s lives. We have to know what enables us to face danger, cruelty and terror. We have to know what enables us to have good times too! The arts enable us to do these things and much more.
However, it cannot ever be that we think of the arts as being ranked in some kind of league table – that, say, poetry is ‘better’ than pottery, or some such. Nor can we think of the arts as being best practised by those who are better off, or some such. We say, ‘all arts for all’.
The critically acclaimed classical series Bach to Baby, is set up by mum and pianist Miaomiao Yu after becoming frustrated at not being able to take her children to the sort of quality classical music concerts that she regularly enjoyed as a professional musician.
Miaomiao, an award-winning pianist, wanted to perform for her son in a concert setting, but found it unrealistic for many reasons, including the late nights.
“And then I thought, this is silly: why not play for him and his friends and other babies and toddlers, at a kid-friendly time? The idea grew from there,” said Miaomiao, who is also a professor of piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Miaomiao set about to design a rigorous musical programme for babies that wouldn’t have been out of place at the Proms. Programming range from Bach to Barber, from Chopin to Shostakovich. “I didn’t want to dumb it down for children. Studies show the positive effects of classical music and children are like little sponges at this stage. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to experience the same high calibre performances as that enjoyed by adults in the best concert halls of the world?” asks Miaomiao.
“I’ve been bringing my son Aubrey to concerts since he was 2 weeks old. He listened and slept and bounced to music,” says the mother of two rambunctious boys. “He is enthralled, and proves my theory that children will thrive in a concert setting as long as they are given the opportunity in the first place.”
Miaomiao was encouraged by the overwhelming response to her first concert — one fan posted this video on Twitter . Bach to Baby now performs in 46 venues across London, Surrey, Kent, Thames Valley, and Essex, with special events at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace and the Royal Albert Hall.
Instead of playing at modest community halls, venues with a specific sense of atmosphere were chosen. “I want babies to enjoy sophisticated music and that’s aided by fantastic atmosphere and acoustics, as well as fabulous guest artists, ” said Miaomiao, adding that exhausted parents deserve an inspiring setting as much as anyone.
Being a mum first and foremost, Miaomiao welcomes all the frenzy that comes along with being a parent of a young child. “It’s about Mozart and Bach, feeding and crying, and dancing to music – all of it,” said Miaomiao. “We haven’t made it through a concert without at least one nappy change. That’s the way it should be,” she said.
Concerts run from weekday mornings and afternoons, as well as Saturdays in locations across the South East. Their pre-concert “ Monmouth Coffee Mingle” offers much needed calories and company for mums.
Thank you to everyone who was able to join us for our annual JM Barrie Award celebrations last week. As ever, it was a wonderful reminder of all there is to celebrate in children’s arts and we are very grateful to the BBC for hosting.
Congratulations to Michael Morpurgo OBE, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award; Linda McClelland MBE, recipient of the Outstanding Contribution Award; and our five members award winners – Julian Butler, Nick Graham, Tom Jelley, AnneMarie MacDonald and Miaomiao Yu.
If you enjoyed the event as much as we did and are yet to become a member, please consider joining for only £30 a year: childrensarts.org.uk/join