On 9th November 2017, much-loved children’s playwright David Wood OBE received the 2017 Action for Children’s Arts J.M. Barrie Award, in honour of his lifetime of unforgettable writing for children. The award was presented by six-year-old Sacha Lee-Khan in a ceremony hosted by Delfont Mackintosh Theatres.
Sir Cameron Mackintosh personally welcomed assembled guests, before a ceremony that included speeches from Maureen Lipman CBE and ACA patrons Philip Pullman CBE and Judith Kerr OBE.
The J.M. Barrie Award is awarded annually by Action for Children’s Arts to a children’s arts practitioner whose work, in the view of ACA trustees, will stand the test of time. Previous recipients have included: Sir Quentin Blake CBE (2008) Roger McGough CBE (2009) Shirley Hughes CBE (2010) Lyndie Wright (2011) Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE (2012) Lynne Reid Banks (2013) Bernard Cribbins OBE (2014) Dame Jacqueline Wilson (2015) and Michael Morpurgo OBE (2016).
2017 is a marvellous year to celebrate David Wood’s life and achievements, as it is his 50th year of writing plays for children. He is an actor, playwright, composer, author, writer, director, producer and magician, who directs most of his own plays and writes the music for his songs. We think J.M. Barrie would be delighted to know that David has received an honour in his name; an honour that celebrates a lifetime of work dedicated to children, which will stand the test of time. He is indeed, a true and worthy recipient.
Action for Children’s Arts also presented a range of awards for excellence in Children’s Arts including an Outstanding Contribution Award to TV composer Liz Kitchen and five Members’ Awards to Daphna Attias of Peut-Être Theatre; Hollie Coxon and Anthony Hope – The Sunderland Empire Theatre Creative Learning Team; Jude Merrill – outgoing artistic director of Travelling Light Theatre; Kate Prince from ZooNation and Gillian Rennie from Seven Stories.
Vicky Ireland MBE Acting Chair of ACA said, “Children are the future. The arts practitioners who specialise in entertaining and inspiring them and triggering their imaginations deserve – Action for Children’s Arts believes – public recognition. This is the 13th year of the J M Barrie Awards. We are proud to honour David Wood OBE, Liz Kitchen and our Members’ Award winners. They are all brightly-shining beacons in the vibrant world of children’s arts.”
Earlier this year, we asked children from four Youth Theatre groups to tell us why they loved the arts as part of our Listening to Children project. We were delighted to devise this video, which was sent with a letter to MPs across the country.
On 20 November we will launch Listening to Children – phase two at the National Theatre. As part of this, we want to hear from children across the country – those who have access to the arts, and more importantly those who don’t. We are calling on you to help us reach those children. If you would like to be a partner organisation on this project, please email our Development Officer Mimi Doulton at: email@example.com
ACA Trustee James Mayhew was the brains behind a new global Twitter trend: #favekidsbookart
On Monday 7 August, Twitter was filled with people’s favourite children’s book illustrations. It was a wonderful celebration of the (often) unsung heroes who bring our favourite stories to life, and ACA was delighted to see so many of its patrons mentioned. To sum up the day, illustrator and Trustee James Mayhew said: “I think #favekidsbookart was huge triumph – fabulous images trending from 9am to 6pm, new artists discovered, old faves shared. Brilliant.”
We were delighted to have a mention from ACA patron Baroness Floella Benjamin in her opening speech at the House of Lords. This was in relation to the Select Committee for Communications’ report: Skills for Theatre – developing the pipeline of talent. Due to the unexpected early-closing of Parliament, the report did not fully explore children and early-years. ACA hopes that the Select Committee will return to this project and explore the issue further.
This afternoon, the 20th June we held our Annual General Meeting at the House of Lords. At the close of the meeting, Vicky Ireland MBE announced that our Chair, David Wood OBE will be stepping down after nearly twenty years of outstanding service. We are so grateful to David for all his hard work representing ACA and are thrilled that he has accepted a new role as President of the charity.
Furthermore, we are pleased to announce that David will be the 2017 recipient of the JM Barrie Award! This award has previously honoured prestigious recipients such as Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE and Sir Quentin Blake CBE. It is our immense pleasure to present this award to David, whose tireless work in children’s arts has inspired and influenced so many across generations.
Action for Children’s Arts is a national membership organisation embracing all professionals working in children’s arts and all those who share our beliefs. It is dedicated to the promotion, development and celebration of all creative and performing arts for and with children.
Further information: firstname.lastname@example.org
In conversation at Oxford’s Story Museum, the veteran writer and actor reveals how to win over the world’s toughest audience. Original source, Oxford Today.
Putting on a children’s play ‘is far more difficult than Shakespeare’. That’s the view of David Wood OBE — a man who has been called Britain’s national children’s dramatist — after 50 years creating many of the best-loved children’s plays. In conversation with journalist Libby Purves at the Oxford Story Museum, he said the vast majority of actors would find performing in front of a big audience of children far too frightening. Children are ‘volatile and very difficult. They have no theatre manners.’
But the fact that children don’t clap politely like adults when they’re unimpressed is exactly what drives him. ‘If you ask me why I do it, [the children] are the challenge,’ he said. ‘When you get it right, they’re the most rewarding of all. If they’re quiet, they’re listening, and then you’ve won — and that’s a huge triumph. I find adult audiences very boring.’ He summed it up, ‘My job is to stop children wanting to go to the loo.’
As an actor, Wood (Worcester, 1963) is best known for playing Johnny in the 1968 film If. But as a writer, his adaptations of classics — from The BFG and The Witches by Roald Dahl to Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce to The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr and Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll — have enchanted generations of children, as have his screenplays, which include adaptations of Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome and Back Home by Michelle Magorian. He had written plays for adults, such as The Go-Between, based on L.P. Hartley’s novel. And he’s the author of many original children’s plays and books, most famous of which is The Gingerbread Man.
But keeping small bottoms on seats is hardly straightforward. Wood (right) has learned that if adults in rehearsals think part of the script is hilarious, children in the audience probably won’t. And children consider themselves part of the action, exploding through the fourth wall. In one performance of The Gingerbread Man, an actor foolishly paused for breath after delivering the phrase ‘something to make him freeze’ and children started shouting ‘ice’ and simply would not stop, leaving the cast on stage confounded. Wood considers it part of his job when writing plays to anticipate what the audience will say, and when, and their words are printed as part of his scripts.
Another pivotal realisation for Wood came after he heard of a conversation a mother had with her daughter when the child said she liked a book. The mother asked why, and the daughter replied: ‘Lots of suddenlys.’ ‘That, to me, was magic,’ said Wood. ‘It transformed what I was doing in play writing.’ He started writing with ‘suddenlys’ on every page — from a phone ringing to a change in lighting or music to a new character to a ‘new sting’ in plot.
Wood focuses solely on entertaining the children, not their parents. ‘I don’t think of the adults at all. Taking children to the theatre is a nightmare. The adults will enjoy it if the child enjoys it.’ And he has found a number of things children usually enjoy. Humour, of course; changes in scale from the miniature to the giant; and animals.
But also children are profoundly interested in ‘injustice’. Wood explained: ‘I believe we are all born with an innate sense of justice. The first thing a child learns to say is “It’s not fair”. That relates very much to storytelling — a child will root for an animal character who is mute and can’t defend itself, or Cinderella.’ Roald Dahl, he noted, was a genius in creating child protagonists who face a world with all odds stacked against them. Parents are, in several Dahl novels, killed at the start of the story, leaving the child to cope alone.
There can be an edge of tremendous sadness in children’s literature and Wood’s plays don’t shy away from showing, for instance, the horrors of war, in his staging of Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian. In the film of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, the boy who has been turned into a mouse by evil witches is turned back into a boy again. But in the novel, and in Wood’s adaptation, the boy is left as a mouse. Films often seek to sanitise the sharp edges of children’s literature with happy endings, Wood noted, and commercial pressures currently threaten original children’s drama in Britain. ‘Everyone wants the big title,’ he said — big musicals or films of bestselling novels are what gets commissioned. But ‘a lot of the best work is small scale’.
‘Terrifyingly’, as Wood put it, Winnie-the-Pooh is now owned by Disney. When Wood was planning a show celebrating children’s literature for the Queen’s 80th birthday in 2006, he wanted to bring the three famous bears together — Pooh, Rupert and Paddington. The people who own the rights for Rupert and Paddington agreed, but, he recounted, Disney took months to consider and ultimately refused to allow Pooh to appear next to the other bears. They eventually specified that the show could go on if there was a fence built around Pooh; the other bears could wave at him from a distance. And that is what Wood had to work around.
David Wood’s theatre career was already flourishing during his time as an undergraduate at Oxford in the mid-1960s, reading English. Having loved performing puppet shows and magic acts as a child, he credits his admission to Oxford by Christopher Ricks to his prowess as a magician. ‘At the end of my three years I said to him: “Why me? I’m not the greatest student and I did more theatre than I’d ever have done at drama school,’ Wood told Oxford Today. ‘He said that it was my magic that got me in; I’d been so passionate about it at my interview; he had small children and thought I’d be useful to have around. I did his children’s parties.’
While ‘scraping through’ his degree at Oxford — as he puts it in his seminal book Theatre for Children — Wood acted, directed and wrote for about three shows a term. He was an active member of the Oxford University Dramatic Society and the Experimental Theatre Club, performing not only at venues like the Oxford Playhouse but the West End and the Edinburgh festival.
One particular show he saw as a student, at Oxford’s New Theatre, proved an epiphany. It was a big commercial pantomime of Peter Pan, a book Wood had adored since childhood. The star turn cracked an adult joke over the children’s heads and then said to the parents in the audience: ‘Oh, come on, let’s get the kids out of here and then we can get started!’ For a blushing and irritated Wood, ‘It was as though an electric shock had jolted me.’ He thought: ‘Surely those children deserved better. It struck me that there was very little theatre aimed at children.’ That moment was a turning point in Wood’s life — and he has carried his respect for children throughout his career.
Throughout this 2017 election campaign we have been reaching out to children and young people across the country, asking them to send in their thoughts on how MPs should pledge to protect children’s arts for the future. Below is the pledge that we have created from their contributions:
In creating the future, we ask you to recognise:
The importance of early-years (children and infants aged 0-5).
That play is an essential part of education, ensuring good physical and mental health in our children.
That the arts are the principal trainers of the imagination.
The need to listen to and talk with children when making political decisions that affect their futures.
It is every child’s right, every day, to have time to create, imagine and play.
We will be sending this pledge to every elected MP in the country, asking them to write back and state their commitment to children’s arts during their time in office. ACA will be issuing a list of supporting MPs to several press organisations and media outlets at the time of it’s AGM, which will be held on Tuesday 20th June 2017 at the House of Lords.
If you would like to attend and are a member, please RSVP to the invitation in your inbox. If you would like to attend and are not a member, you can join at childrensarts.org.uk/join
National charity Action for Children’s Arts is inviting children and young people from across the country to send in a pledge for children’s arts.
Submissions will be used to compile a short pledge-card. This will be issued to politicians nationwide in the run up to the General Election, asking them to guarantee their commitment to providing a future for children’s arts in the UK. Participants can either send in a written or recorded/filmed pledge. Our favourite entries will be compiled into a sound-bite to help spread the message.
Here is an example to get you started: “Every child, every year: a play, a concert, a gallery, a museum.”
WE WELCOME SUBMISSIONS FROM ANYONE AGED 16 OR UNDER. CLOSING DATE IS 7PM ON MONDAY 8 MAY 2017.
How to get involved:
Write 25 words that you think make a strong, snappy statement in support of all children in the UK having the chance to watch and participate in creative activities such as music, art, drama or dance.
Create a 15 second audio recording or film that makes a bold statement in support of all children in the UK having the chance to watch and participate in creative activities such as music, art, drama or dance.