Imagine this: I’m in an empty classroom wearing a huge pair of pink fluffy wings, crying. Enter a class of young children. After many cuddles and strokes I eventually tell them that the other fairies won’t be my friend because I won’t share my lovely bag of sweets. The children explain to me very seriously that I have to share. They dry my tears and one very shy little girl slips her hand in mine and whispers, “I’ll be your friend.” Needless to say, I share my sweets with them and exit to fairyland via the school back door. Five minutes later, I’m back minus wings to hear all about the exciting things I’ve missed. Not one of them realised I was the fairy. On the way out at hometime, one little girl saw the sun sparkling on the glittery granite step and said, “Mam look! The fairy’s put glitter here for us. She really loved us didn’t she?” Sir Ian McKellen…eat your heart out.
Now if that’s the effect a teacher in a pair of cheap wings has, can you imagine the impact on children of seeing real, proper theatre – theatre with music, scenery, actors? I watched the tears stream down my son’s face when the Ugly Sisters were tearing Cinderella’s dress and heard his gasp of complete delight when a real miniature pony pulled her coach on to the stage.
I can’t afford to take a class of children to the theatre. By the time you’ve factored in the price of the ticket and the price of a bus from a rural village it puts it outside the reach of most of my children’s families. Nobody’s going to subsidise these trips…not in a climate of cuts but what I do need, and what mustn’t be cut, is funding for the groups who bring the arts to me. Subsidised arts provision has given me African drummers, Indian dancers, professional storytellers. People who can create magic and wonder. A storyteller from the Gambia was amazed to find that a lot of my children had never spoken to a black person before, some had never seen anyone who wasn’t white British. She spent as much time answering questions about herself and her family as she did telling stories. How’s that for a learning experience?
Children need “The Arts.” The level of Speaking & Listening skills on-entry to Primary Schools has deteriorated over recent years and in the most deprived areas has reached such a low standard that teachers routinely report children coming in speaking at one or two word level, “Drink”… “Want bear.” I need the creativity that performers bring to schools to help stimulate those children…inspire their imaginations, make them think and dream. They’re not going to get that experience anywhere else.
If they cut the grant-aid to the Community Arts Projects that provide theatre and music at a local level, then all a lot of children will be left with is a middle-aged schoolteacher in a pair of plastic wings…and that’s just not good enough.