Theatre for the Very Young in Europe

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Ana Mirianashvili


As we know, professional theater for children or TYA (Theatre for a Young Audience)  originated and developed in Europe, the USA, and Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century, and later in the entire Soviet Union. Theater for the very young is a relatively new direction, which was created about three decades ago and is a purely European phenomenon. This type of theater has developed well in many European countries and is gradually gaining popularity in independent troupes in large cities of Russia and the post-Soviet space.

Starting from the 20th century, in the countries of Europe and the post-Soviet space, theaters for children usually divide the repertoire into some specific age groups: preschool - 4-6, primary school - 6-9, middle school - 10-13, youth/ Teens 13-15 and 16+. Active children's theaters always try to have performances suitable for all age categories in their repertoire. The classic model of dividing the audience into age groups has undergone a gradual change since the end of the twentieth century - creative troupes began to work for the audience of preschool and early age (from 6 months to 6 years inclusive).

The theorists and practitioners of contemporary TYA divide the audience of early childhood into age groups of 0-3 and 3-6 years. In different countries, this age division may vary in different ways, but it does not go beyond the framework of 0-6 years. It is significant that even in the first decade of the 21st century, performances created for this age group caused a kind of skepticism of the theater troupes themselves and some part of the adult audience, although today this type of theater is no longer a surprise to anyone.

In this research, I discuss several models and important projects of theatre for the very young in Europe, such as the „Babydrama“ staged by the Swedish director Susanne Osten - a performance for 6-12-month-olds, the Italian theater „La Baracca“, the projects „Glitter Bird“ and „Small Size“, troupes working in Great Britain, Scotland, Hungary, Denmark, and other European countries, working specifically for the very young audiences, etc.

From birth, a child is a small person with feelings, emotions, ability to know the world and perceive beauty, different from adults. To create art for the youngest child, one must first perceive him as a person - this is the starting point for creators who stage performances for this age group. A necessary condition for performances intended for very young audiences is privacy, and the proximity of the audience and performers, such kind of a performance cannot be attended by a large number of children. Based on these features, this kind of theater develops in different ways in different countries - theater for early ages is trendy and widespread in countries with a high level of social security and educational system, where the state supports parents with long-term paid leave, daycare centers, and nurseries.

In the research process, several interesting aspects were revealed: artistic features characteristic of European children's theater for the very young, the specificity of dividing the audience into age groups, financial, social, organizational, and legislative issues, the importance of professional studies, and many more.

Through these models and examples, we can see that children's theater is an integral part not only of culture but also of the country's politics and educational system. Caring for a child begins from the moment of its birth, and it is manifested not only in meeting its physiological needs but also in recognizing the rights and freedoms of the child as an individual and providing corresponding services (including educational and artistic).

The theater for the very young is one of the logical stages in developing TYA in the world. The process of refinement and development of art forms will continue in the future and will be even more interesting for professionals interested in this field, as well as for the direct addressee of these performances - the children's audience.

Theatre For Children, Theatre For The Very Young In Europe, International Projects, Babydrama, Glitterbird, Small Size
Published: Mar 6, 2023

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Theatre Studies