I have a question that plagues me when making choices for what theatre I think appropriate to see with my daughter (nearly 3) and in the judgement theatres/producers make. What's the artistic and marketing tension with rating theatre for children? Am I right in saying an artistic judgement that says this show is made to be enjoyed by 3-5 year olds provides a tricky box office dilemma for a marketing dept who want to max out small bums on seats with siblings and a wider children's audience? At Unicorn we were very specific about the age range despite box office temptations to widen the reach - it was sometimes met with parental frustration when booking but meant it genuinely held true to the artistic vision of the piece. Many other theatres are as rigorous but am never sure of a show that markets its appeal to 3-8 year olds and I see it frequently.

Views: 5

Tags: age-range

Comment by David Harradine on February 15, 2010 at 23:31
When we made The Forest at the end of last year, we were very specific about it being a piece for 5 to 7 year olds. Then we started performing and we observed that younger children liked the piece too, possibly more than some of the older children, and so we decided to lower the age range. But it wasn't possible for us to bring down the upper limit, as the tour was already booked and venues had already started selling. This was a big dilemma for us: we've always been very clear and fairly militant about the need for small and specific age ranges, and suddenly we have a show on tour marketed at a broadly-aged audience. So Erin your blog post chimes with me in lots of ways. I think there are other areas of tension in this, as well as the artistic intention/marketing strategy one you mention, such as:

"Family (Un)Friendly" meeting "Age-specific"

"Supporting Artistic Innovation" in the context of "Whilst Selling Plenty of Tickets"

"Child Centred" as a way of saying "Artist Led" (or maybe "Artist Centred")

"I Know My Child Will Be OK In a Show For 6 to 8 Year Olds Even Though S/he's Only 3" up against "We Know What This Piece Is And Believe Us It's Not Gonna Work For A 3 Year Old"

...and plenty more. Anyone else got any more to add?
Comment by Jonathan Lloyd on February 19, 2010 at 8:39
These judgments are hard to make sometimes, but as a producing theatre for children, the key question for us at Polka is trust. Our audiences need to trust us when we say this is the age we think this show is suitable for. It's frustrating to be too restrictive, to discover only too late that a 3 year old may get as much pleasure from a show as a 4 or 5 year old and yet your marketing has suggested otherwise; likewise if you've been too liberal and many children leave the theatre bored or traumatised from a show that's just not suitable for them. For venues, I'm sure, the short term gain of widening an age range to maximise sales on a show is outweighed by the long term damage to your audience's trust in you.
Comment by Tony Reekie on March 8, 2010 at 14:04
David's point about a shifting age range is an interesting one. Shows are created and as we have to market them an age range is found and the company has to stick with it, even if it turns out to be wide of the mark. If the piece works well enough to come back then it is possible to shift the range. It always strikes me as being very difficult for the creators of work, as once you have decided your range, there must be the impulse to work within those boundaries, even if the creative desire is perhaps to go elsewhere. This, of course, doesn't apply to adult work as adults are, well, adults.

Erin, you are right, mostly, that 3-8 year olds should be approached with care. And/but its also equally true that some work for 8 year olds holds a very young audience transfixed.

No clear answers, but one we will always wrestle with time and time again to try to make sure that most people coming get the most of out the performance.

And, of course, we all realise the fundamental truth that any show for 5 year olds will automatically have 3 year olds in the audience, and the answer is perhaps to up the age range in the first place, with an added hugely generalised rule of thumb that you add on an extra year for any work from overseas!

Simple.

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