Children’s Peace Theatre was founded in 2000 by Eldon and Marcella Hannon-Shields in response to the United Nations' Declaration of the International Decade of Peace for Children of the World. They invited award-winning theatre artist Robert Morgan to join them as the first Artistic Director.
Robert believed that children and youth would be the catalysts of social change that would put an end to senseless conflict. In its first year, the company delivered Conflict Transformation workshops in local schools and launched its first Peace Camp – a two-week (now three-week) day camp bringing together professional artists with children 8 to 12 who collaborated in the creation of an original theatre performance, "At the Crossroads."
In 2001, the United Nations invited our young people to perform at their headquarters in New York City as part of the launch of the International Decade of Peace for the Children of the World. Twenty-five eager children, youth and adults from Children’s Peace Theatre left for New York City to attend the prestigious event, but were turned back at the U.S border. The date was September 11, 2001.
The world had changed. The grim events of that day put the world in an unprecedented state of alert fueled by deep misunderstanding, mistrust and intolerance. The effect of that day on our children deepened the Children’s Peace Theatre’s commitment to empower young people in their search for peace. Professional artists continued to work at the grassroots level in schools and local communities and performed at events that featured Romeo Dallaire, Jane Jacobs and Jean Vanier.
Children’s Peace Theatre experienced a brilliant flash of relevancy in 2005 when violence struck close to home with the brutal and senseless murder of Andrew Stewart. Our artists and staff volunteered to work on their own time with a group of 15 of Drew’s friends. The work that these young people did each week at Children’s Peace Theatre led them to confront the complex reality of violence in their lives and in the lives of so many youth in their city. They struggled to reconcile their desire for peace with their need for justice and their desire for revenge. Bravely, they chose peace and channeled their emotions and deliberations into a powerful play that they performed throughout the city. They were awarded the 2006 YMCA Peace Medallion for their moving and courageous work. The group of youth, who became known as Drew’s Group, were transformed by this experience, and Drew’s Group also profoundly changed Children’s Peace Theatre, inspiring the Youth Leaders Theatre Project.
In 2006, founding Artistic Director Robert Morgan retired. The work and vision of Children’s Peace Theatre continues with Karen Emerson as the Artistic Director and since 2010, with Susan Ryan as General Manager. Under Karen’s artistic direction, Children’s Peace Theatre’s programs and vision have grown substantially. Recognizing the need to broaden its reach, Children’s Peace Theatre now operates year-round, offering programs like the Youth Leaders Theatre Project, Conflict Transformation, youth theatre collectives, and projects for as many as 2,000 children and youth of all ages and backgrounds every year. We have staged annual Peace Camp productions, given countless workshops, and embarked upon projects as wide ranging as the One Earth Conference at OISE and “Border Crossings”, an investigation of genocide in Cambodia and migrant workers in Ontario.
"We place children and youth centre stage, not because they are cute or candid, but because they display humanity’s capacity to evolve, even in the harsh conditions of the current times. Young people are demonstrating an instinctive desire to move away from the dominant culture of self-interestedness and aggression, and are moving instead towards building relationships and community due to an innate desire to seek stability, safety, and peace.
It is also evident that young people have the imagination and the energy that will be necessary to establish a new culture of peace. Watching young people from very different backgrounds cross paths, encounter conflict, and find creative ways of making the conflict evolve in positive directions, gives me the audacity to believe that peace is possible."
Robert Morgan, Founding Artistic Director, Children’s Peace Theatre