In 1995 Sue Buckmaster was doing an MA in Contemporary Theatre Practice with a specialism in the Psychoanalytic Study of the Puppet. She was also working as a freelance puppetry maker and director, seeking to improve the level of puppetry being created at the time. Penny Bernand, who had previously set up children’s theatre companies Quicksilver and Pop-Up, was looking to establish a new company which placed an emphasis on a visual approach to making quality work for children. Penny wanted to explore the whole ritual of attending the theatre, to question where and for whom it was created and how it was made. Penny and Sue met as these ideas were evolving.
Theatre-Rites made its first commissioned site-specific show, Houseworks as part of the Out Of LIFT season 18 years ago in June 1996. From then on the company has had the opportunity to create work for children of all ages in the arenas of theatre, site-specific, dance, and museum and gallery exhibitions. Working in the independent sector has enabled us to join forces with like-minded partners, willing to take risks and experiment with form.
When the company began we believed that children had the right to see and experience art, which is of the same quality and made with the same rigour as the best of adult work. We still believe this.
We believed that the work should reach children and adults regardless of their cultural, economic or social backgrounds and we feel that this is even more important now, as we see a selective vision influencing the important decisions about what gets made.
We believe that work for children needs to be robust, made with intelligence and integrity and, due to the current demands on it, needs to be artistically protected.
We joined ITC in 1997 and have enjoyed the benefits of its membership and advice as the company has embarked on wide-ranging projects from large international site-specifics to traditional small and middle-scale touring.
Over the years we have fought for the rights of children’s theatre to have the emotional and financial respect it requires. We have ensured quality through employing our artists and offering family/life-friendly contracts. We have argued for the right foundations to build good work, both in terms of management and the facilities that host venues provide in order to allow quality preparation. We have sought critical assessment and thorough evaluation. The process through which the work is made is as important as the end product. The quality of engagement with all those involved is key to our practice.
Currently we seek to thrive by placing ourselves positively within the growing opportunities of digital platforms and we are seizing the opportunity to unite with partners outside of the arts in order to continue to make exciting, new work.
However, the most important aspect of the work is, and always has been, the quality of the art itself; that it is not compromised by these external pressures, or by the notion that children are easily pleased, catered for or, at worst, ignored.
Being independent and subsidised allows us to maintain this philosophy, and not be driven by marketing or economic factors alone. The praise and success we have received is hopefully a testimony of the value of subsidy and recognised dedication.
Over the next five years we aim to work closely with our colleagues in the sector, to protect the quality and vibrancy of children’s theatre. We will support others who we recognise as having the same spirit of playfulness, artistic rigor and risk-taking. We will continue to seek exciting collaborations for new shows and hunt for that special building or space to bring a little Theatre-Rites’ site-specific magic to.
Sue Buckmaster and Claire Templeton
- Young Peoples