Bell puts a word in for kids

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John Bell... spelling out that children everywhere have the right to participate fully in cultural and social life.
THERE are many strings to director and theatre manager John Bell’s bow.

These days he gets to talk a lot, and on October 20, Bell will deliver the 2011 annual “Rights of the Child” lecture for Save the Children at the National Library of Australia.

The subject is one about which he feels passionately.

Naturally, children’s rights will be his main subject, rights expressed in UNICEF’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, drafted in 1989 on the understanding that people under 18 years old need special care and protection.

He’ll be focusing on those parts of the convention that spell out that children everywhere have the right to participate fully in cultural and social life. Self-expression is the key to it, Bell says, and he’ll be asking: “What are our responsibilities?”

One of the great aspects of performance, he says, is the potential for encouraging young people.

“The idea of playing being frowned upon is a rather Victorian concept – now we know that play is an important means of self-expression,” he says.

The company that he founded, Bell Shakespeare, now programs in at least one session with indigenous communities in Australia every year.

“We can help confront many of the factors that lead young people in indigenous communities to close up, including the communal concept of ‘shame’,” Bell says.

By coincidence, the day before we spoke, the news came out of Bell Shakespeare’s 2012 season. He’s doing some exciting stuff in Sydney, notably the first professional production within living memory of John Webster’s “The Duchess of Malfi”.

Of particular relevance is that, for the first time in 22 years, Bell will be directing his daughter Lucy, who plays the lovely but ill-fated Duchess.

“It’s high time,” as he puts it. Bell’s other daughter Hilary is a playwright, best known for “Wolf Lullaby”, and while he confirms that “the two kids were practically born in a trunk… slept under the seats while we [Bell and his wife Anne Volska] rehearsed,” the experience “didn’t seem to have done them any harm.”

The two girls returned to the theatre professionally as adults, he believes, because they felt encouraged there, because they felt a sense of self-esteem.
On October 20, it’s those qualities about the theatre that he’ll relate in his lecture – “encouragement, self-esteem and socialising”. And John Bell is absolutely sure that his chosen art form has a role to play.

The 2011 Save the Children “Rights of the Child Lecture”, delivered by John Bell, National Library of Australia, 5.45pm for 6pm start, October 20. Entry is free.

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Helen Musa
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