Baboró – putting young people centre stage

Aislinn Ó hEocha, Artistic Director of Baboró.
Aislinn Ó hEocha, Artistic Director of Baboró.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

The number of Irish companies presenting work at this year’s Baboró International Arts Festival for Children is a tribute to how much the festival has achieved since it was first held in 1997. Baboró grew out of Galway Arts Festival, under the direction of Patricia Forde, who felt that holding a separate festival in Autumn devoted totally to children would maximise their access to arts.  That’s what has happened, firstly through Baboró’s schools’ programme and then through an expanded and ongiong family programme, with evening and weekend shows.

Along the way, Baboró set itself the challenge of helping Irish companies to create work for children. There were some young people’s theatre groups in 1997, but children’s arts were the poor relation.

Things have changed. This year’s Baboró has a terrific mix of Irish and international work and, according to its Artistic Director, Aislinn Ó hEocha, ticket sales for schools are ahead of September 2016, while interest from families is also strong.

As with any festival, getting a variety of events is important.

“There are a few different factors and you are always trying to get it right – giving a mix of age and genres, of Irish and international work,” Aislinn explains. “And a lot of it comes down to work I see that really strikes me and that I feel Galway audiences should get a chance to see.”

Some of these shows are light-hearted and some are more issue-driven but not overtly.

“I’m not a believer in shows having to have a message.”

However, they can provoke thought – and a co-production from the UK and Norway, which uses music, storytelling, clowning and shadow-puppetry to tell the story of Abdullah, a boy from Syria, does just that.

“We Come From Far, Far Away, which is set in a Mongolian yurt, is a great piece in itself, but it also talks about the position of migrant children,” says Aislinn. “It opens up discussion and I don’t think we should shy away from that with children. They read newspaper headlines and hear news, so it’s good to have a safe way to explain these issues that are part of our lives.”

That show, for ages 10+, is based on true stories from children in emigrant centres in Norway, some of whom journeyed from Syria on their own.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.