Imaginate director Tony Reekie talks about his last festival

Imaginate director Tony Reekie talks about his last festival

The performing arts event for children and young people continues to push boundaries

Despite its size, funding climate and number of full-time children’s theatre companies (two to Denmark’s 130), Scotland has built a strong reputation for creating groundbreaking work for young audiences. That’s due, in part, to the people making it – but the existence of an annual festival celebrating that work for the past 26 years cannot go unacknowledged.

About to hand over the reins after 20 years of stewardship, Imaginate director Tony Reekie is humble but proud of his organisation’s input.

‘I think having a festival every year really helped people, in terms of what their aspirations could be,’ he says. ‘Because one of the things that this festival has always done, long before I came, is bring in really high-class work for children, which gave people the opportunity to see what it looked like.

‘And I think it’s also really useful to have some kind of organisation or structure which allows artists to come together and feel that they’re part of something bigger.’

Looking back over Reekie’s two decades at the Imaginate helm, one of the biggest changes has been the festival’s targeted age group. Previously aimed exclusively at 5–12 year olds, the programme has been broadened out to include superb offerings for both under fives and teenagers.

‘What’s lovely about that progression of work for younger audiences, is it has run alongside the science of it,’ explains Reekie, ‘which showed artists, makers and audiences what happens when you give children artistic stimulus – tell them stories, play them music. And actually what happens to their brains is really important.

‘But there’s a real art to creating an environment where artists, very young children and their parents all combine in something really special – it’s a difficult thing to find, but when you do, there’s nothing quite like it.’

A perfect example of that is Hup, in this year’s festival. Created for babies aged 0–24 months, this co-production by Starcatchers and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, features two violinists, a cellist, a raccoon and a gentle narrative about a tree.

One other noticeable change in the Imaginate programme is the absolute refinement of the age ranges that the 14 productions are aimed at. Look through the lineup and you’ll see works for ages 3–7, 6+, 8+, 9+, 10+ and more besides. Because, as Reekie says, ‘If someone says they’ve made a show that works equally well for 5 to 12 year olds, they’re either a charlatan or a genius.’

At the far end of the age spectrum, Reekie has programmed Mess, a moving yet funny show about anorexia for ages 13 plus.

‘I saw Mess in a school which had a theatre attached to it, and there were lots of kids there,’ he recalls. ‘Afterwards I said to a teacher that it was great they managed to get so many kids to come out in the evening. She explained that half of them had already seen it that morning, and came back to see it again.

‘I really enjoyed it, but to get the endorsement that it meant so much to those kids, I knew something really interesting was going on with that production.’

Imaginate Festival, Mon 11—Sun 17 May.

Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the information displayed here is accurate, always check with the venue before attending (especially during the Covid-19 pandemic).

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.

Various venues: Edinburgh

Tue 25 May

Times & prices vary / 0131 228 1404

Wed 26 May

Times & prices vary / 0131 228 1404

Thu 27 May

Times & prices vary / 0131 228 1404

…and 10 more dates until 6 Jun


Starcatchers and RSNO (SCOTLAND) present a musical performance for wee ones aged 0–2. The relaxed performance includes two violins, a cello, a raccoon and the story of a tree.

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