Open Space: What Is The Future of Theatre for Teenagers?

  open space

Whoever come are the right people.

Whenever it starts is the right time.

Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.

When it’s over, it’s over.

As I walked around Battersea Arts Centre on a Sunday afternoon, sticking up the last of the neon cards displaying those 4 rules of the Open Space, Hourglass Festival drew to a triumphant close with burgers, drinks, games and a number of selfie opportunities on the marble stairs.  80 people made up of young artists from all over the UK, external arts professionals, Battersea Arts Centre staff and general lovers of conversation and debate filled BAC’s New Committee Room. Kitted out with dodgy drawings of animals and ample cups of tea & biscuits, the room buzzed with curiosity and ideas as we got ready to take part in the Open Space discussion titled:

What Is The Future of Theatre for Teenagers?

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Steven Camden, better known as Spoken Word artist Polarbear, kicked off the conversation by sharing with us his experience of a conference about theatre for young people he had attended, where he became frustrated when he realised this discussion was being held without any young people in the room.  Battersea Arts Centre introduced him to Open Space, and together they planned a discussion event inspired by this format, championed and attended by the young artists these conversations were about. Followed by a few passionate manifestos by artists from Uncover Theatre at The Albany, Contact Theatre in Manchester and New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, the room instantly felt inspired with unanswered questions people were dying to discuss. We opened the floor, and with a shy start people gradually took a stand to call their topic.

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The room felt alive as strangers mixed to introduce themselves and settle into their chosen discussion. Some of the most popular of conversations included:

  • Why not create a new network of young companies where they can tour within each other’s venues?
  • We need money!
  • Is Youth Theatre relevant for all people or just the youth?
  • Is it our place as ‘young people’ to challenge and explore ‘adult’ issues on stage?
  • How do we convince those in power that the arts are important?
  • Should GCSE Drama be scrapped?
  • How do we break down stereotypes about young people through theatre?
  • Political apathy & theatre
  • How do we bring theatre to the people who think theatre isn’t for them?

I took the stance of a butterfly during the Open Space event, fluttering around BAC and hovering on the outskirts of conversations. I found each and every topic stimulating, challenging and fruitful in debate and questions. Most of all, it was refreshing to see people really listening to what young artists had to say about things regarding them. Opposed opinions were welcomed and explored whilst agreements were pushed into actions, but what I found incredible was the atmosphere. These mini hubs of creativity weren’t limited to art converts, there was space for new ideas and energies to merge and blossom into relevant sub-topics that were equally supported by the diversity of voices within the groups, and the impact these voices had on these conversations was evident.

open space 4

The afternoon came to a close and we gathered back in the New Committee Room. The final cups of tea were made and the last of the biscuits eaten as we fed back on the conversations that’d taken place all over Battersea Arts Centre. There was a supportive and enlightened hubbub as everyone cheered and clapped and nodded in understanding. These conversations continued outside of the room; people sharing their personal experiences of an Open Space event and of Battersea Arts Centre.

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When everyone had left, I gathered all the notes and pieces of discussion that were left, feeling deeply motivated and proud of what we had achieved. Having participated in a few Open Space events before, this definitely felt like more of an active conversation that allowed myself and many others to voice their thoughts and be listened to. There is no doubt that Battersea Arts Centre will continue to host more Open Space events like this, and take a lead on giving a voice to the people they affect and sharing these discussions with a wider network.

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