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David Wood on Writing for Young Audiences

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You are known for writing original plays for a young audience or adapting books for the stage. Why now a television series?
Why not? Shaun the Sheep is much loved by all ages. The characters are fun and translate well from screen to stage. And the farm on which they live offers our designer Susie Caulcutt strong visual theatrical possibilities. Our stage interpretation uses dance to tell the story. This is challenging, unusual, and very exciting.

What makes a book come to life on the stage (as opposed to on the page)? 
Any good story is worth staging, just as it might be worth filming. And the live theatre experience is still very special. Too many children spend too much time on their own in front of a screen. Theatre is a communal experience that can create a magical buzz. Children enjoy the colour, the lighting, the sound and a story.

What are the differences in writing for young audiences rather than adult ones?
Children are not an easy audience. They lack – quite reasonably – theatre manners. If they are bored, they talk, fidget, and want to go to the lavatory. Theatre for children must have what I call “lots of suddenlies” to keep them riveted to the seats for fear of missing anything. But, if you get it right, children are the most rewarding audience of all.

What's the most important ingredient in making a play work for a young audience?
Emotionally involving them. They need to care about the characters. We need to make them laugh, as well. In addition, we need to inspire them visually. We try to entertain and also to make children think and trigger their imaginations.

How important is music and/or audience participation?
Children love music and rhythm. To use music for songs and dancing is obviously appealing, but also incidental music creates atmosphere or tension, as in a film. I like audience participation to arise naturally from the situation, rather than be grateful just to get them shouting.

Why do you think it's important for children to be introduced to the theatre?
All the arts nourish children. If food keeps their bodies alive, the arts help keep their inner beings alive. Participating in, or going to see plays, concerts and exhibitions and so on opens their minds and their hearts, increases tolerance and the idea of fairness, and will ultimately make them happier, more fulfilled citizens. Shaun’s Big Show is a dance extravaganza, featuring every kind of dance you can think of! This is a real family show; it’s not just for small children.

(David Wood has been described as the National Children's Dramatist. His latest play for family audiences, Shaun's Big Show, begins its six-month national tour on 17 February at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage).


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