'Regulation, research and the creative gap: the context and practice of TYA in contemporary Northern Ireland.

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A significant legacy of the period of violent conflict in Northern Ireland and the subsequent peace process is that children and childhood have been the focus of much academic research. This research has been focused largely on concerns about the reproduction of sectarianism by children and its impact on them, particularly through schooling and the influence of the media (Connolly and Maginn 1999; Ewart, Schubotz et al 2004; Messenger Davies 2006; Young NCB Northern Ireland 2013). There has been almost no equivalent research into children's engagement with the arts in general and theatre specifically, even within the narrow focus of how they might contribute to a society free from sectarianism. Since 2008, an annual Kids' Life and Times Survey, for example, has gathered children's experiences of childhood. None of its questions address children's experience of the arts or live theatre. A new Children’s Research Network for Ireland and Northern Ireland was established in 2012. While hitherto engaged in methodological concerns of research into children, in December 2013, its conference will focus on children's mental health and well-being. However, the measures of well-being (such as the Laeken Indicators used by the European Union) focus exclusively on factors relating to poverty such as income, unemployment and access to housing. Access to the arts is not mentioned at all. Alongside these gaps in research, both the UK government and Northern Ireland's devolved Assembly have made significant interventions in the legislative structures that regulate childhood, including in the areas of Children's Rights, through the appointment of a Children's Commissioner; in Child Protection; and in proposed changes to the schooling structure. Again, there is a focus here on protecting children from harm, discrimination and social exclusion in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, Article 31 of the convention, which specifies that 'Children have the right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities', is rarely mentioned in any legal structure or social care provision. Such research and regulation suggest that in Northern Ireland children are the focus of anxiety and that childhood is perceived as fraught with dangers. These are, then, a continuation in these different spheres of the recurrent motifs noted by Gilligan (2008) in the representations of children that focus on hope, innocence and above all else vulnerability. In the same period, within a growing sector of performances for young audiences, TYA productions generated from within Northern Ireland have only engaged intermittently with these issues (though there have been a plethora of participatory projects in applied theatre). Instead, performances have largely focused on celebrating children's resilience and developing the imaginative engagement of spectators with performance. This paper explores the reasons for the gap between the research and regulatory context and the artistic practice of Northern Ireland's TYA artists. It argues that this creative practice is filling the gaps left by research and regulation. The creativity of this practice eschews instrumentalist approaches to making performance, yet, paradoxically, may also be directly engaging with the development of the kinds of experiences that will build a shared future for Northern Ireland's citizens.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnknown Host Publication
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2014
EventITYARN Third International Theatre for Young Audiences Research Forum at the XVIIIth ASSITEJ World Congress - Warsaw, Poland
Duration: 1 Jan 2014 → …


ConferenceITYARN Third International Theatre for Young Audiences Research Forum at the XVIIIth ASSITEJ World Congress
Period1/01/14 → …
Internet address

Bibliographical note

Reference text: ARK (2013) Kids Life and Time Survey [online]. Available: http://www.ark.ac.uk/klt/2013/. Accessed 23-10-13
Connolly, P and Maginn, P. (1999) Sectarianism, Children and Community Relations in Northern Ireland. Coleraine: University of Ulster
Ewart, S. and Schubotz, D. et al (2004) Voices behind the Statistics: Young People’s Views of Sectarianism in Northern Ireland. London: National Children's Bureau.
Gilligan, C. (2008) 'Real / imagined children: images of children in the Northern Ireland peace process', in María José Carrera et al (eds.) The Irish Knot: Essays on Imaginary/Real Ireland, Universidad de Valladolid
--- (2009) `Highly Vulnerable'? Political Violence and the Social Construction of Traumatized Children.' Journal of Peace Research 46 (1)
Northern Ireland Commission for Children and Young People (2009) Northern Ireland Commission for Children and Young People [online]. Available: http://www.niccy.org/. Accessed 04/11/13
Messenger Davies, M. (ed) (2006) Children, media and conflict: the experience of divided communities – Ireland, Israel and Palestine, proceedings of an interdisciplinary colloquium at the University of Ulster, April 2005, Coleraine:
Young NCB Northern Ireland (2013) Following in Their Footsetps? Investigating Young People's Attitudes to Sectarianism in Northern Ireland. Belfast: National Children's Bureau, Northern Ireland. Available http://www.ncb.org.uk/media/888599/sectarianism_research_report_for_adults_feb_2013.pdf. Accessed 03/11/13.


  • Theatre for Young Audiences
  • Childhood
  • Northern Ireland


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