by Camilla Gürtler
Seeing the world through the eyes of a child is seeing it as if for the first time, the saying goes. We make up the most fantastic stories when we are little. And in our honesty, we sometimes manage to voice things adults aren’t able to. So it’s always seemed strange to me that we’ve catagorised children’s and adults’ stories into two different compartments – sometimes they touch, but for some reason it seems easier to label them “children’s stories” – why not just stories? There seems to be a proposed limit to what children’s stories – and children – can talk about.
This is the question that led to the creation of Beyond the Blue. I’d been teaching the 5-7 year olds at Omnibus Youth Theatre for a while when we started creating their own plays. We focused on story-telling techniques, writing for the stage, creating characters and directing, and then created wonderful plays with mad characters and settings. But every time, with the freedom to create whichever story they wanted, they always wrote something political, a poignant note on the world today and what we as adults seem to debate endlessly. Different races waging war on each other, deforestation and protection of the rainforest – the children were eager to have their say about a world where they’re still seen as “passengers”.
In 2016 this led to the creation of Beyond the Blue. The first class back from Christmas, and we were looking to write a play on the themes of losing your home and crossing the sea to find a new one. I asked the children what this would be like, and one said: “It’s like the boy on the beach”. And then Beyond the Blue was born.
Children are sponges. What we see in the media, they see. When we create division, they feel it too. And it was very clear that these 5-7 year olds had been following the refugee crisis, only they didn’t understand why it was happening. When asked what it would feel like, they came up with a universal truth – It’s like toys, who are our favourite friends in childhood, being told they can’t play. It’s like the world losing all its colour. It’s that moment when you enter Sweetie-Land and can eat all the sweets you want, but only if you change who you are and become like the others.
Beyond the Blue is a moving parallel to what the children saw in the media, and to the questions they were asking themselves. Why are we being treated differently? Why can’t we all play together? What if our toys – and the children used their own ones as inspiration for the characters – had to go through all of this? How would they manage? Who would they meet? The unfairness of the Toy-Smuggler and restrictions the Evil Queen imposes – these are imaginative responses to that picture on the beach and many others like it. That all-important question of how can we show empathy and start to understand what that would feel like, when our worlds seem so different. Beyond the Blue tries to find a way to express these questions in a way we can all relate to – our childhood friends and way of seeing the world. Maybe it is time to let children help us see the world as if for the first time again.