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Children’s role in theatre to be explored at Leeds Beckett symposium


The role of children as performers and collaborators in the theatre will be the theme of a full-day event hosted by Leeds Beckett University later this month.

The symposium, which is open to the public, emerges out of a wider research project that looks at the representation and participation of children and young people in performance, led by Dr Adele Senior of Leeds Beckett’s School of Film, Music and Performing Arts.

The event, will explore the possibilities and limitations of the terms ‘child’ and ‘childhood’ for thinking about how we make performance with children and watch children in performance. Discussions on the day will consider historical views of children’s labour in the theatre and will question how children become more active political agents in collaborative processes of making contemporary performance.

Entitled ‘With Children: The Child as Collaborator and Performer’, the event will run from 9am to 6.30pm on Saturday 28 January. There will also be an evening reception from 6.30pm to 8pm, which will include a film screening of a work by artist Grace Surman and her daughter, Hope. Held at Headingley Campus, children can attend for free, whilst tickets are £15 for adults. Lunch is provided and places for the event must be booked online, here – www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/withchildren. Young performers are encouraged to attend with parents, guardians, or group leaders. Interested local drama/dance/choir and other small performance groups are welcome but should email Dr Senior at A.M.Senior@leedsbeckett.ac.uk to confirm, as places are limited.

Dr Senior, who has jointly organised the day with Dr Gary Anderson of Liverpool Hope University, said: “Theatre has a troubled relationship with children. As performers and collaborators, children’s participation in contemporary performance practice is haunted by historical concerns over young people’s labour and their potential exploitation in the theatre: too many long hours; too many performances; too many late evenings.

“Contemporary theatre companies and artists working with children sometimes inherit these anxieties around child labour and so creative processes are often dominated by discussions of risk, responsibility, and care in ways that are both productive and all-consuming. Whilst concerns over children’s wellbeing are obviously important, these anxieties can accompany children on the stage and encourage a protective or nostalgic gaze from adult spectators who see child performers as too skilled or not skilled enough, too innocent or too knowing. If, as audiences, we only view child performers from this perspective, we risk limiting how we perceive, represent and engage with children and young people both on and off stage.”

Alan Read, Professor of Theatre at King’s College London will deliver the keynote speech for the day. He said he wished to encourage attendees of the event, including children, to take part and get involved in the keynote.

“I will not so much ‘give’ a keynote speech, indeed I’d like to outsource my keynote to those willing to participate,” commented Professor Read. “My session, ‘Build Your Own Keynote’, will offer conference participants of whatever age, shares in the process of coming up with something to say, working out how best to say it, and then saying it to those not contracted in (otherwise known as the audience).

“Those who want a stake in a keynote that can be repurposed for other occasions will be offered remuneration. Infants can be represented by agreed proxies but will be free to express themselves as they see fit.”

Adele added: “We have a brilliant line-up for the symposium including Dr Erin Walcon and the child collaborators of Doorstep Arts; Co-Artistic Director of Fevered Sleep, Professor David Harradine; and 11-year-old Dagmar Friis from the Centre for Live Art in Denmark. Our programme for the day will include a range of presentation styles from performance papers to feature provocations.

“Children are not ordinarily invited to academic conferences so we hope that the symposium will create a space in which we can establish a dialogue with young people about their past, present and future participation in performance practice and what this means for issues of children’s representation more globally.”

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