What have I learnt so far during my Canadian odyssey researching theatre for young people? First and foremost that Canada is big! Very, very big. I have been with the francophones in Montreal, the city slickers in Toronto, the oil barons in Calgary and now with laid back West Coast hipsters in Vancouver. This range is reflected in the work with a huge diversity in style, form, audience, content. You name it, they pretty much got it.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust has enabled me to be here as part of a fellowship to help develop arts in schools and city academies. My aim is to take what I discover and feed it in to iceandfire’s programme of work for young people, particularly the plays which we take in to schools. The rehearsal of Bind is imminent, starting three weeks after I get back, so everything will be very fresh in my mind.

So far I have met over 15 companies, mostly those making work for young audiences, but I have also tried to meet other companies to see what context the TYA companies are operating in and to try and gauge the breadth and depth of contemporary Canadian theatre. Of those Volcano and Necessary Angel in Toronto have stood out both because of the content and quality of their work. Volcano are currently performing their play examining the Rwandan Genocide, Goodness, in Toronto before taking it to Rwanda later in the year. Necessary Angel are currently working with British director, Graham Mclaren, on a ‘radical revisioning of one of the world’s greatest plays’, The Hamlet Project.

I am currently working with Green Thumb theatre in Vancouver on Blind Spot by Meghan Gardiner. The play, which Meghan adapted for younger audiences from a one woman show, looks at the impact of date rape on a 16 year old girl. It kicks off its tour on the 28th September, visiting schools throughout British Columbia before transferring to the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre For Young People in Toronto who are the biggest TYA company in the country, producing work for the last 40+ years. I met with their lovely Artistic Director, Allen Mackinnis, during my 3 day stay in the city who talked me through their upcoming programme which also includes In This World by Hannah Moscovitch, produced by Youtheatre. Based in Montreal, the only bilingual company I’ve met, the company’s aim is to engage its audience through compelling theatre which provokes, questions, challenges and entertains mostly through new writing. Check out this clip of Simon and the Egg, an environmental play for 6-12 year olds.

After all of that you would hope that I had learnt more than just that Canada is big and I promise I have! But the main thing that the trip has done so far is reinforce the extreme discipline that work for young audiences demands. Not only does the writing and performance have to be of a really high quality but to create a world in a classroom or school gym is a harder task than to create the same world in a theatre space. The safety net of lights and props and defined audience/performer space are gone but this is also what makes it exciting and really alive. To spend time with practitioners who do this every day has been really invigorating and I’ve still got another 3 weeks to go.

By Sara Masters, co-Artistic Director

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