Theatre for the young audience

A Cork woman who runs an early years arts company represented Ireland recently at the World Congress of Theatre for Young Audiences, in South Africa. LIZ O’BRIEN chats to Cliodhna Noonan about the experience, her work in the field, and plans for the future
Theatre for the young audience

Cliodhna Noonan from Bishopstown, who runs ‘Acting Up’ an early years arts company.

BISHOPSTOWN native Cliodhna Noonan is brimming with new ideas to engage young children in performing arts.

Cliodhna runs an ‘early years’ arts company called ‘Acting Up!’ which encourages children to express themselves through language, music, theatre and storytelling.

This summer the mum-of-three attended the World Congress of Theatre for Young Audiences event in South Africa, after being awarded an Irish Arts Council Travel and Training grant.

“I came back inspired and proud to work in this sector,” she said.

Cliodhna, her husband David — the Irish ambassador to Lithuania — and their children Ailbhe, aged 16, Sheilagh, aged 13 and Joe, aged 11 currently live in Vilnius, Lithuania, where David is on a posting and Cliodhna is working on programming an early years arts festival, ‘Labas’.

In January she co-produced a new show for babies, called Teapot Tales.

“It is a story-telling performance using teapots and the legendary Lithuanian Bildukas (house sprite) which ends with us sharing a cup of tea together with the audience,” Cliodhna explains.

“The idea was as much to combat the isolation of new parents as to have a cultural experience together. The audience is aged 0-11 months! I’m now considering a new idea using particular fairy tales and the objects in a drapery store... watch this space!”

Cliodhna values the importance of arts activity for parents and their children.

“The performing arts are a playground for expression of difficult truths, magical moments that make memories and honest spaces where critical thinking can be developed and encouraged.”

The Corkonian is also involved in the annual Early Years Arts Festival in Dublin’s Farmleigh Estate; she, along with Jackie Maguire of Colourstrings Music with Jackie, runs a programme called ‘Space Invaders’ — funded by Fingal Arts Office — which celebrates and supports a child’s important first years in life.

Cliodhna Noonan who recently visited South Africa.
Cliodhna Noonan who recently visited South Africa.

“I love this festival because it is only for families and very young children. More than 400 families with children aged 0-5 came to our third edition of this event earlier this year.

“We presented a mix of international performances and Irish expertise in the beautiful grounds of Farmleigh. The next edition is in high demand already!”

Her company: ‘Acting Up!’ aims to create a warm and stimulating creative environment for children aged 0-2, 2-4 and 4-6 years.

“I set it up in 2008 to advocate for early years arts performances in Ireland, having come into contact with the EU network, ‘Small Size’, in Bologna.”

‘Small Size’ is a European Network for the diffusion of performing arts for early childhood.

Cliodhna was on the committee of the first early years arts seminar as part of Baboro International Arts Festival for Children called Natural Born Artists.

“I have created, produced, and performed three shows for babies aged 0-4 years and I am now on the board of the EU ‘Small Size’ network association,” she said.

“One of their most successful events is ‘Small Size Days’; the last weekend in January every year.”

Cliodhna attended the Capetown ‘Cradle of Creativity’ event as a ‘Small Size’ delegate this year, after ‘Small Size’ became a network member of the global Assitej association of theatre for young audiences.

“It was incredible to witness the leadership of the world executive committee on diversity, inclusion, next generation and the role of the performing arts in children’s lives today.”

Cradle of Creativity taught Cliodhna more about theatre for young audiences and inclusion; how to pass the baton of creativity and share expertise with a new generation of artists and experts who will lead the way forward and it made her realise the value of international networking.

“The Capetown delegates came from more than 120 countries and this sharing of thinking was a very powerful experience for me.

“In particular I was very touched by the ‘Maloza performance’, which was a project from Zambia under the direction of Bruno Cappagli from Italy. The cast is composed of street children, who live at the centre, and were offered drama classes, pyrotechnics, acrobatics and dance activities to develop their own story.

“‘Maloza’, the man cub, is fiercely portrayed in their own voice and instantly recognisable as the Jungle Book — a story of survival.”

Cliodhna was proud to have been able to attend the event in Capetown. The next world congress will be in Tokyo, Japan in 2020 and already, Cliodhna is encouraging people and companies to join ‘Theatre for Young Audiences Ireland’ to discuss the country’s global position, in this sector.

“I am asking myself now how we can best represent the wonderful work being done in Ireland with and for young audiences. I would love to see a healthy sharing of ideas, expertise and resources to develop a strong voice in this sector, especially with the introduction of ‘Creative Ireland’, (a five-year government initiative — 2017 to 2022 — which places creativity at the centre of public policy). I look forward to this dream becoming a reality across theatre, dance, music and visual arts in the future.”

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