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On theater for very young audiences

Working for very young audiences requires that we ask the fundamental questions of theater anew. Young children, with their views still unfiltered by conventions, do not expect anything to be a certain way. They are ready to absorb everything we offer them.

This situation challenges us to examine the foundations of theatrical communication. The artists open their worldview, their imagination to the child's open and questioning gaze. The child's view of us and our work tolerates no pretense; it seeks to understand the world seriously and confidently. This trust demands that we be precise, that we grapple with what we want to show and say, both in terms of content and aesthetics.

The works are always staged for the accompanying adult audience as well. The plays want to reach all viewers. When they succeed, they are as complex as they are simple. The artists ask the following questions before rehearsals start and while the piece develops: What is the narrative's value? What is fundamentally human in the subject matter? How can we translate the developed content into images and processes that captivate a three-year-old just as much as, for example, their 10-year-old sister and grandparents?

While the youngest audience members perceive the play primarily on a sensory level, the older ones bring their lived histories to the theater experience. For example, in the object theater piece “A small story”, the breaking of an old, golden coffee pot, which the audience has just seen dancing with another pot on a turntable to the music of Frank Sinatra, shakes us up. The small child sees a broken pot and possibly the scandal of a wrecked toy, while the adults charge the incident with all the feelings and memories connected with the death and loss of a person.

Both groups of viewers see the same thing and share a certain quality of the images, a mood and an atmosphere. Yet, everyone perceives what they see according to their own horizon of experience. The aesthetic pleasure becomes a shared experience, an experiential space opens up across the generations.
Here, the resources of theatrical media are rich and still far from exhausted.

The genre is being constantly enriched by visual and performing artists, musicians and choreographers who have never worked with young children before. For the artists, the appeal lies in the reduction, in the commitment to research-based work methods and in the open exchange of the working process. The artists often visit daycare centers or playgrounds in search of content, materials and perspectives. Intermediate results are presented to children invited to rehearsals, to see whether the chosen means of expression “work.” The extensive renunciation of the symbolic character of language, of psychological characterization, of classical narration and of the fourth wall challenges the artists, while simultaneously giving them the freedom to experiment within set coordinates.

In particular, post-dramatic principles and elements of performance art find expression in the new forms for this special audience group: an artistic-researching attitude; focus on the “phenomenal happening” through actions that actually take place; making artistic processes visible; often, but not always, including the audience as a creative force in the artistic event; a variety of hybrid combinations of different media and forms of presentation. Against this backdrop, we seek artistic collaboration with choreographers, dancers and performers who are open to the challenges and research opportunities that arise in working for this target group.

We see work for very young audience as an opportunity for artists of all genres and disciplines to question their own understanding of theater beyond hierarchies and to give new impulses to the performing arts.