A lively Umbrella Session was entirely dedicated to present and most importantly improve a newly drafted ASSITEJ National Centre Tool Kit which aspires to assist members who wish to create a new ASSITEJ Centre or network.
Specifically, the toolkit which is due to be made public in the coming month, is designed to outline the role that National Centres can and do play, the possible contexts and structures that may affect the way they work, and the kinds of programmes they may implement. Designed as a guide to new centres and a means for established centres to review their operations and refresh their ideas, the tool kit stands in its completion stage, while this year’s artistic gathering was taken as an opportunity to enhance and perhaps further improve it’s content, through the input of the session’s participants and their own experiences. Indeed, the tool kit is said to provide valuable information that is based on established Centre’s experiences and challenges.
“The toolkit is designed as a guide to new centres and a means for established centres to review their operations and refresh their ideas”
Present (online) at the session was Stavros Stavrou, the president of ASSITEJ Cyprus, one of the new centres to have joined the ASSITEJ community. Founded in 2021 and having recently celebrated its first birthday, it was perhaps adequate to find out more about ASSITEJ Cyprus’ journey so far.
It was initially Stavrou’s interest for theatre for young audiences that lead the idea of founding a Centre on the island of Cyprus. As a lyrics writer and cultural manager, and having having written and/or produced many shows for children, it was when he realised that Cyprus didn’t have its own ASSITEJ national centre that he took action. “I thought that founding ASSITEJ Cyprus would be a great way to bring Cypriot TYA professionals together and further develop the performing arts for young audiences on the island,” explains Stavros.
Having made the decision to create a local centre, he initiated a long and fruitful process, during which he talked with a number of the TYA professionals on the island, informing them about his idea. “Everyone showed a great interest in the project and was supportive… and in September 2020 an event was hosted, in which the intention of founding a national centre in Cyprus was officially announced, while a number of TYA professionals discussed the realities of performing arts for young audiences on the island,” adds Stavros. He also pinpoints the presence of the Commissioner for the Protection of Children’s Rights at the event which he claims as was of great importance. Following the event, the ASSITEJ Cyprus founding conference took place in March 2021.
Today, ASSITEJ Cyprus already has 206 members, while Committees and Working Groups on different topics have also been formed.
“From the beginning, one of our main aims was to connect with our international colleagues and maintain a relationship with both ASSITEJ International, as well as all the other national centres. Immediately after our founding conference, we started a series of online meetings with EC members and other national centres, with the aim of getting to know each other better. We also took the initiative to create the Small Countries Network together with ASSITEJ Iceland, ASSITEJ Luxembourg, ASSITEJ Liechtenstein, Bradipoteater in San Marino and the Zijgu Zajg Festival in Malta. Since the beginning of 2022, we also have our monthly Coffee Break Sessions, with one national centre being our guest each time,” describes Stavros.
According to Stavros, despite the gradual development of the performing arts for young audiences on the island in the past few years, there’s still a long way to go as far as building a relation with the international community is concerned. To this end, Stavros asserts that ASSITEJ Cyprus’ main aim is, on the one hand, to bring together the TYA community in Cyprus as well as further develop the performing arts for young audiences on the island. On the other, is the opportunity for local professionals to connect with their international colleagues and become active members of the global TYA scene, by participating in festivals, gatherings and other events.
“At ASSITEJ Cyprus we give a lot of emphasis to the protection of the rights of children and especially the right to take part in cultural life. It is no coincidence that one of our first actions was to translate and publish the ASSITEJ Manifesto in both Greek and English,” reveals Stavros. Beyond that, ASSITEJ Cyprus has been active within its community. “Immediately after the big fires which hit Cyprus last summer, an open call was made to our members, who travelled to the affected areas to perform for the children there while members of our organisation also visited hospitals and performed there too,” adds Stavros.
“At Christmas, we launched the project “Every child to the theatre”, through which 134 children from vulnerable backgrounds were offered free tickets for shows by our members. In March 2022, we celebrated its first birthday with a big event including workshops, discussions and shows, while in May 2022 we offered our members free Theatre in Education workshops with the renowned British Professor, Joe Winston.”
“At ASSITEJ Cyprus we give a lot of emphasis to the protection of the rights of children and especially the right to take part in cultural life.”
Despite being active for just over a year, ASSITEJ Cyprus was selected to take part in the European “Perform Europe” programme, in a big partnership with other European organisations. “In the context of this programme, we will host a Lithuanian show for babies in June, by the Lithuanian Dance Company Dansema, as well as a workshop for dancers,” says Stavros.
Yet one of ASSITEJ Cyprus’ biggest dreams for the future is to organise the first international performing arts festival for young audiences in Cyprus.
Not being able to be present in-person at this year’s festival, Stavros has been actively participating in the festival’s online edition and has volunteered to assist in proofreading the upcoming National Tool Kit and giving feedback to its editors with the valuable experience he has gained in the past year and as a newly formed national centre.
“Having attended the opening ceremony and the Artistic Encounter online, it’s so nice seeing all these people gathered together in physical presence, after everything that the world has gone through in the last two years,” concludes Stavros.
Melissa Hekkers is a freelance journalist and author.
Her most recent book, Amir’s Blue Elephant, is a creative non-fiction based on her experiences working with refugees, in Lesvos, Greece. In 2018, she launched My Cyprus Mandala, an interactive educational book series on the natural and cultural heritage of Cyprus. In 2007, she published her first children’s book ‘Crocodile’, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. Her second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (2012) was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. Her third children’s book ‘Pupa’ (2014) was adapted as a theatre play in 2019.