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The State of Theatre for Young People in Ontario: Voices from the Field

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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Based on input from 31 stakeholders who contributed to focus group sessions, interviews and questionnaires, this report, prepared by Hill Strategies Research for the Ontario Arts Council, summarizes qualitative research into the financial realities and artistic and business practice in Ontario’s theatre for young people sector. The report highlights the structure, impacts, challenges and needs in the sector. The report finds that theatre for young people in Ontario: “is in a period of evolution; struggles to gain respect; is financially squeezed; works hard to make ends meet; respects and promotes diversity; is concerned about access to theatre (and the arts in general); and works to improve the condition of young people in the province and across Canada”. The report elaborates on these key aspects of the sector.

The report notes that many research participants felt that “young people should be viewed as human individuals, with distinct tastes and needs”, rather than as a homogenous group or simply a future audience. Participants generally reported that, “if anything, it is more difficult to do work for young people than for adults”. Some of the challenges include lack of respect and recognition as well as limited marketing, workshop time and production resources. Some participants noted that, “in other jurisdictions, art, artists and children receive a higher societal priority than in Ontario”.

Other challenges and opportunities in Ontario include creating, performing, producing and presenting work for the province’s significant culturally-diverse, Aboriginal, northern and francophone populations. Touring is fairly common in Ontario’s TYP sector, with much TYP work being designed with touring in mind.

Although relationships with school representatives were seen as generally positive, the report highlights the many challenges associated with addressing curriculum needs and school issues. Other significant challenges in the education sector include structural changes, reliance on relatively few educators for many bookings, and a perceived decrease in cultural literacy among educators and the general public.

The report elaborates on the impacts of TYP, which participants saw as “vast and many-layered, including impacts on young people, education, artists and the arts, and society as a whole”. The report quotes one theatre practitioner: “live arts and artists are an essential part of the educational process – as much as reading, writing and arithmetic”.

Three key issues were seen to need particular attention: cultural literacy / societal priority for the arts; respect for children in our society; and money. Actions suggested by participants include advocacy, networking, funding increases, assessment changes, as well as changes in education policy, teacher training and contacts with educators.

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