Imaginate 2014: helping young audiences to view theatre and the world differently

Imaginate 2014: helping young audiences to view theatre and the world differently

Saltbush

The kids' theatre festival uses everything from hammocks to penguins to capture younger imaginations

No leg room, hard seats and a giant head blocking the stage: just some of the potential barriers to fully enjoying a theatrical experience. But it comes as no surprise to find that ground-breaking children’s theatre festival, Imaginate, is offering us a few alternatives.

In a bid to help children, young people and the grown-ups next to them all look at things from a new angle, director Tony Reekie has brought in a number of shows that quite literally offer us a different view. ‘People are trying to find different ways to set up the world that you enter for a period of time,’ says Reekie. ‘So they’re really looking beyond the old-fashioned conventions about how you tell a story, and how an audience relates to it. Theatre can sometimes just be about the neck up, and to only experience it in that way can be a bit counterintuitive. Particularly for children, who are very physical and react with their whole bodies.’

Saltbush, a co-production from Italy and Australia, allows them to do just that. A mix of live music, song and storytelling, the show takes us on a journey through Aboriginal Australia. Using digital technology to bring the floor beneath their feet to life, theatre company Children’s Cheering Carpet invites audience members onto the stage to interact with them and become immersed in the story.

For those who’d rather sit back and relax, A True Tall Tale from Denmark has the ideal solution: hammocks. As celestial projections are beamed overhead, you lie below in a material cocoon while the traditional tale of a forest adventure unfolds. ‘It’s a very visual piece that allows your brain to work in lots of different ways, because when you’re lying back in the hammock, a lot of the time you can’t see the storyteller,’ says Reekie. ‘And when good theatre is working well, it lets your mind wander within the story’s context, and helps you place yourself in it. Then you potentially end up with an experience that can be a lot more profound than simply sitting and listening to somebody tell a story.’

With 14 productions in the programme, from the impossibly cute Too Many Penguins (for 1–4-year-olds) right up to O Snap (a dynamic dance work about finding your identity for ages 12+), this year’s Imaginate looks to inspire, entertain and challenge toddlers to teens: and their parents. Three of the festival’s shows (If Only Rosa Could Do Magic, Not Now Bernard and Tiger Tale) all hold a very gentle mirror up to those of us with young charges, and ask us to perhaps question how and when we engage with them.

‘If theatre is just cosy and reinforces how fabulous we are as human beings, I do wonder about the point of it,’ says Reekie. ‘Obviously we’re doing this in the context of a children’s theatre festival, where you want people to go away feeling entertained. But sometimes that entertainment can be about thinking, “I really don’t spend enough time with the kids”. Themes like that should always be part and parcel of work for children.’

Imaginate, various venues, Edinburgh, Mon 5–Mon 12 May.

Edinburgh International Children's Festival

Edinburgh’s international children’s festival of performing arts presents a programme of dance, storytelling and puppetry, suitable for anyone with an imagination.

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