I was approached to be involved in the Young Parents Appeal Project because of my history of working in family theatre as an actor and storyteller who is experienced in devising and in interactive productions.
The brief was to devise a versatile ‘pop up’ performance of the successful book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ that could serve several spaces in Sure Start Centre’s across Salford.
The aim of the project was to use our little storytelling performance to show how story time could be exciting for young children and their parents. It had to be educational, relentlessly entertaining, musical, inventive and interactive.
I was in a group of four, and even though we were all drafted in for our different expertise and backgrounds, we decided that it should be an ensemble performance and that we all would have equal artistic input and participation. The team work paid off and, naturally, friendship and working as a team became a big part of our story.
We made a conscience decision that all of our props and set could easily be recreated at home with inexpensive materials. For example, we made autumn leaves with various coloured tissue paper, a 3D sea by layering and sticking waves of blue material together and we made snow drops by recycling shoe box paper and cotton wool into confetti. This doesn’t sound much, but when leaves and snow appear suddenly and float magically down on the unexpected audience, it made children and adults gasp. It was magical. Simple and effective methods that could easily be recreated at home to inspire children to read and parents to make the books ‘live’ for their children.
It was extremely important that it was interactive. Very young children- and many adults- don’t have the patience for a traditional theatre or classroom atmosphere. They should become part of the story and literally taken on a journey. Any learning should be incidental and plot driven. We had a dialogue with the children throughout and ensured that their ideas and input were very important, allowing them to build confidence. They were encouraged to join in repetitive narrative, songs and movements. They played with all our props and set: the snow, the grass, the leaves, our musical instruments… and couldn’t believe that they were allowed!
The response from all of the Sure Start centres was extremely positive. The parents and staff appreciated the quality of the performance and the children were totally engaged, excited and participating in theatre.
The most important audience were the parents and children who don’t have a particularly high level of literacy or the opportunity to experience theatre. Particularly those who had difficult backgrounds, those were let down by the country’s educational system or left school prematurely because they fell pregnant or for personal reasons. It was fantastic to see families from all nationalities and backgrounds engaging, playing together and supporting each other during our visit.
Melissa, a brilliant young, single mum, was one of our team. She had an interest in drama and directing but left school because she fell pregnant. For her, this project gave her a creative outlet, a slice of independent life outside of caring for her lovely little daughter and it also gave her an opportunity to prove she is talented enough to outshine professional actors such as myself. Watching her grow in confidence and become inspired to continue her aspirations, made me realise just how important this kind of work is.
I think we achieved our brief and then some. Some commented that they had never seen anything like our show before and thoroughly enjoyed it. I lost count the times parents said “We’ll be playing that for weeks!”, “I can’t get the songs out of my head!” and “We’re going to have to get that book now, it was brilliant!” We even had one young parent say that her children weren’t allowed books as they rip them. She also admitted to not being able to spell very well. She made it clear that she had low expectations and enthusiasm about our visit. But, we overhead that her friend is lending her the book of ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, as she and her children enjoyed it so much. We won her over. That was what this project was all about.
By Nathan Morris