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Theater 33.2 (2003) 1

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Up Front


Children's theater is a vision of the future. It shows how playwrights, directors, and theaters want to shape their audiences as future spectators, as citizens, and as individuals. Contemplating this when you're sitting with a very young person at some saccharine, patronizing, smarmily produced play in which cute animals solve cute kids' self-esteem problems can be depressing. Things get even gloomier if, while you squirm, you also consider that stage work for children reflects a culture's adult theater, and, finally, its social attitudes in general. Most American theater for children is dreadful.

But not all. The work in this issue—American or not—starts from one basic perspective: children are full human beings though they haven't yet fully experienced being human, and their imagination, their reasoning, their ethical sense must be respected. Artists should resist the easy art of further socialization into a system that, after all, hasn't worked out benignly so far. Instead they should be presented with scenarios that encourage them to make their own arguments, articulate their particular ways of seeing, and exchange ideas and feelings with other children and the artists (who, of course, may be other children). Such engagement can be quiet, still, and introspective, needless to say. Whatever the form, it should be freeing. Jack Zipes used to talk about emancipatory theater for children, which sounds about right. Otherwise they might as well be watching television.

Adult playwrights and directors could learn a lot from the analyses, projects, and scripts described here. Grown-ups need emancipatory theater too and are offered ever less of it.

We originally planned to cover many other countries and projects, and I deeply regret that we had neither the funding nor the staff; work for children should be an ongoing subject. My warmest thanks to Jack Zipes, who helped in many ways beyond writing his illuminating essay; to Dragan Klai´c, who has always pushed me to keep thinking about the subject even though I wanted to forget it once my daughter grew up; and to Erika Rundle, whose editorial help was even more invaluable than usual.


Erika Munk



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Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2005
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