Seen and not heard: participation as tyranny in Theatre for Early Years

Ben Fletcher-Watson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


This paper uses the frame of participation as tyranny to trouble the concept of participating freely in cultural life and the arts' within Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, especially as it relates to the youngest children: when children's experiences are curated and determined by adults, participation may resemble manipulation rather than control. Heavily influenced by Article 31, contemporary Theatre for Early Years relies on audience participation and often takes the form of a wholly participatory experience. For many audience members, these moments can be liberating, but others may feel unsettled by a tokenistic experience which appears to legitimise the artist's hegemonic status. Sherry Arnstein's Ladder of Citizen Participation provides a provocative typology of participatory practices, which this paper reformulates in relation to the very young. As a route away from the often unconscious tyrannies which may accompany adult-led arts projects, it is proposed that participatory power structures can be created which grant agency to child audiences to engage on their own terms. This includes the ability to take control of the theatrical event, to withdraw from participation and to have children's innate imaginative capabilities recognised as comparable to those of adults.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-38
Number of pages15
JournalRide-The journal of applied theatre and performance
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Theatre for Early Years
  • TEY
  • participation
  • article 31


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