Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

A Guide to Guidance: how can you be sure a story is suitable?

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Whenever I take a booking or ask for feedback on my work, suitability is mentioned.  For each of my stories I have suggested the age or level the audience should be at in order to watch it.  You did read that correctly, I said suggested.

Most recently I have been presenting “Private Peaceful” as part of the Cityread 2014.  My brief was to work with young readers in public spaces (lots of libraries!).  Michael Morpurgo’s story is quite rightly, not pitched at younger young readers but I know from experience of working in public spaces to expect very young audiences.  I therefore devised a piece which could be accessible to an audience of young people aged 7 plus.  This was challenging as I did not want to compromise the language or the tone of the original in my work.  In my interpretation I remove elements of the story which are too disturbing for a young audience or too difficult to do justice in a 40 minute presentation (the shooting of Bertha, Molly and the baby).  Similarly, I say that my version of “A Christmas Carol” can be enjoyed by audiences of young people aged 4 plus.  I don’t deviate from Dickens’ story or his language and in places my ghost story can be scary but I include elements of slapstick, pantomime and colourful, comic characters to entertain the very youngest audience members.

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.The truth is that when I say a piece is suitable for a particular age or level I am making a broad statement.  If I am liaising with a school directly it is much easier to advise them on a story to choose for their children.  Here my statement on suitability is definitely “this story is suitable for a person of the stated age or level”.  When I work In public environments I have less control over who will be watching.  I can put a statement of suitability on my literature or speak to the audience briefly before the presentation begins but my statement is more ambiguous, “a person of this age or level can access this story in some way”.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be like this but in the end I don’t know the audience who will watch my work.  When I work in schools, a child who is particularly sensitive will respond to my work differently compared to one who is bomb proof.  During the school holidays a parent will not be able to leave one child in order to monitor their sibling so I often present stories I deem inappropriate to very young children.  Saying this, I have had two year olds howling with laughter at Dracula because of my presentation style and teenagers who have disrupted my stories because they weren’t prepared to engage with my work.

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.There are risks when booking or attending stories for children but many pitfalls can be avoided with insight into the work.  Just because it says its suitable for a seven year old doesn’t mean its not Michael Morpurgo.  Just because it says its suitable for four year olds doesn’t mean that its not Charles Dickens.  A statement of suitability is to say you can rather than you should watch.  It is for adults to exercise their discretion in choosing an appropriate story for their audience.