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People cannot live without performances. They like observing other people and their behavior in everyday life, as well as on the stage. Theaters appeared at the times of ancient Greeks and continue developing nowadays. When people understood that theater can show not only different situations from life or those that are written but also educate, they thought about theatre for children, where young personalities would show themselves and learn how to perform.
Children have been a part of different plays and shows for a long time both as audiences and players. The emergence of Christmas performances acted by children appeared in the middle of the 19th century. These performances gained wide popularity. Goldberg noticed that if the Christmas pantomime is included in the category of children’s theatre, then the tradition of performances for a young audience in England dates as far back as the early eighteenth century (Goldberg 62). The earliest volume of children’s plays was published in 1779, in France, by Madame Stephanie de Genlis. Madame de Genlis used the term theatre for children and was sure that children are performers, who play for children and for adults (Schonmann 32). Another significant step in history of children’s theatre made Winifred Ward, who published the book Theatre for Children, in 1939. In her book, Ward described the first play of children’s theatre performed by Madame de Genlis. However, Christmas performances are not in the category of a theatre for a young audience, because its first aim was to interest adults with the help of children’s play.
Children’s theatre in America, at first, was created as a social and educational organization, but not a theatrical institution. Nellie McCaslin was the first, who showed the origin of American children’s theatre in her book Theatre for Children in the United States: A History. She stated that the earliest foundation of children’s theatre was in the educational and social centers, in large cities, but not on the professional stages (McCaslin 6). She said that the first children’s theatre was found in the US in 1903. It was created by Alice Minnie Herts in 1903 in New York. The participants and residents were mostly Russian Jewish immigrants. The theatre helped them to join in a new community.
Children’s theatre in Russia appeared at the beginning of the 20th century. It was founded by Natalia Saz in 1918, in Moscow. The educational goals that were developed were to explain the world for young people and help them to change it. The Soviet government in Russia admitted that children’s theatre should be educational enterprise, while, in the USA, children’s theatre had been changing in accordance with the educational and social needs of immigrants (Schonmann 33).
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The first attempts of performing drama for children in England were made in 1914, when Jean Sterling Mackinlay tried children in Christmas performances, and, in 1918, when Shakespeare was performed for schools in London by Ben Greet’s company (Goldberg 60). However, the growth of children’s theatre became widespread after the WWII.
In Italy, children’s theatre appeared in 1953 in the Teatro per Ragazzi in Milan. At the same year, children’s theatre was founded in West Germany. In France, children’s theatre started its development in 1920s. In Check Republic, in 1935, was founded the Jiriho Wolkra Theatre by Mila Mellanova. In Romania, in 1964, appeared the largest children’s theatre called Jon Creanga. In Holland, Poland, and few more countries, children’s theatre was originated in 1945 after the Second World War (Schonmann 35).
The first wave of children’s theatre appeared in 1920s and lasted till 1930s. The second wave started after the World War II. The phenomenon of the theatre for children appeared quickly and was spread world widely with a great speed despite the cultural, religious, and political differences, and the 20th century has been called the century of the child.
A great contribution in Children’s theatre in the USA made Charlotte Chorpenning, who doubled the repertoire of children’s plays. At the age of 60, she decided that the only thing that she wanted to do was to write plays for children. As a result, she spent 21 year writing new plays in the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. She understood that children would like to see plays that they know the title of, and Charlotte adjusted such titles as The Emperor's New Clothes and Little Red Riding Hood to name a pair. Children’s theater used this concept for some time, but it has been removed recently, and new plays have been created. She had known that fairy tales have a Universal quality and tried to adjust some of them. Chorpenning saw the issues of growing up in the fairy tales and understood if children could sympathize with a character, they would love to watch the play. Moreover, this concept is followed today. Nowadays children have an opportunity to achieve an award called the Charlotte B. Chorpenning Award.
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Winifred Ward was the first, who introduced the world of drama into children’s theater. In 1925, she became a co-founder of the Children's Theatre in Evanston (“Theatre for Children”). It was a perfect example of community and university cooperation where college students worked with children in casts and production. Its first production Snow White was a hit. In 1944, she founded an organization called the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (A bit of History). This organization is still flourishing.
Aurand Harris is a person, who has written stunning bodies of the plays for children. He perpetually created different and new styles. His aim was to make audience to think about the content and draw some conclusions. His most popular shows are The Tobey Show, The Arkansas Bear, Monkey Magic, Pinballs, The Orphan Train, etc. In the 70s, Harris received the Charlotte B. Chorpenning Award for his achievements in writing plays, which raise the level of children’s theater. Furthermore, he won this award once more in the 80s, and he is the only person, who received this award twice (A bit of History).
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In the 80s, he went to China to see the first American playwright directed there, called Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. As a result, at the prayer of the oldest children's theatre in China (the Shanghai Children's Art Theatre) and the funding of The Children's Theatre Foundation of America, Harris directed the first American children’s play in China, called Rags to Riches. His play was translated into Chinese and performed by local actors (A bit of History). Some changes were made in the script in order to fit to economic and political differences between China and America. As a result, Aurand Harris became known and beloved by children all over the world. He is the most produced children’s playwright in the USA.
Suzan Zeder has brought a lot of changes into children’s theater. She has taken issue that children face in a real life and created interesting stories that help understand some difficult problems. For instance, in the play Doors, she shows the story of divorce and how a child deals with it. Another popular works are Mother Hicks, Ozma of Oz, Step on a Crack, Wiley and the Hairy Man. For a long time, her works have been underrated, because a lot of people think that her plays make children deal with a real life, but not a fairly one. However, her works have been shown in Japan, Canada, France, England, Switzerland, Greece, Australia, Israel, and New Zealand.
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The theatre for children was created with intent to educate youngsters. The first plays were meant to teach children such qualities as humility, politeness, diligence, etc. Children are happy to participate and perform in the theatre. It helps them understand and educate the world around them better, and evaluate different situations. Nowadays, children’s theatres are functioning and developing all over the world, and children are taking essential part in it.
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