Over the summer, Big Imaginations brought high-quality theatre to children and families across the North West and Yorkshire. Cheshire Rural Touring Arts, Burnley Youth Theatre, The Boo, Spot On, Citadel Arts, Culture Tameside, Waterside Arts, The Grand (Clitheroe), Action Transport Theatre, Touchstones and Z-arts came together to programme fantastic shows and activities, which were supported by Arts Council England and The Granada Foundation. From stages to parks, here’s what some of our Big Imaginations venues got up to:
Burnley Youth Theatre – Burnley
Over the Summer, Burnley Youth Theatre hosted The Fabularium with their fantastic piece of outdoor theatre, “The Hare and The Moon.” The day was blessed with sunshine and smiles as they safely welcomed back their families, camping chairs and blankets in hand, to live performance again!
It was their first piece of professional outdoor theatre at their venue and was greatly received by their audience, old and new.
They had 2 packed performances and offered free craft activities to keep everyone entertained whilst they soaked up the weather, it was a brilliant day and they can’t wait to programme more outdoor theatre next summer.
Citadel Arts – St Helens
Citadel Arts wowed families at their “In The Street” festival over summer. Fabulous, entertaining, unique, amazing, spectacular, bonkers – these are just a few of the words audiences used to describe the festival.
Following 18 months without live events, “In the Street” was an opportunity for Citadel Arts to come back with a bang and provide families in St Helens with a free festival that all could enjoy.
This has been a difficult time for so many people and by bringing amazing theatre companies and performers like Half a String, The Fabularium, Miss High Leg Kick, Kate Flat Projects and John Hinton to the Town Centre, Citadel Arts were able present families with an opportunity to come together for a fabulous day of free entertainment and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Over the course of the day, the shows collectively engaged over 1000 children and family audiences providing so much fun along the way.
Half a String brought a splash of colour to Church Street as they set out to create the pinkiest pink atop the wonderful Puppet Van.
John Hinton performed not one, not two but THREE sets of science inspired songs, proving music can be educational and FUN.
Kate Flatt Projects created magic out of weather and dance, presenting a truly enchanting experience which had audiences young and old captivated.
Miss High Leg Kick and her fellow Bird Ravers who certainly brought the festival spirit to the event. Bird Rave was the perfect celebration of classic rave and the choreography of nature.
Finally the wonderful Fabularium took families on a heroic walk-about adventure unlike any the town centre has ever seen.
It was a magical day from start to finish and Citadel Arts was delighted to once again welcome families back.
Just So Festival – Cheshire
Over the summer, families returned to the multi award-winning festival Just So Festival for a three-day imaginative outdoor adventure like no other.
With a love of stories and childhood escapades at its heart, Just So Festival invited families (from bumps to great grandparents) to step out of their day to day lives and into a wonderland of world class literature, arts, theatre, dance, music, comedy and creative pursuits together.
One thousand families came to the much-loved festival to enjoy a host of outdoor arts, including captivating theatre, jaw dropping circus, woodland opera, relaxing family yoga, toe tapping music, a cosy midnight feast, a spectacular colour fight and even an embarrassing dad dance off.
The festival was underpinned by the Carnival of the Animals, a raucous Just So tradition where families dress up as either Bees, Foxes, Fish, Frogs, Lions, Owls, or Stags and compete in mischievous challenges throughout the weekend to be crowned victors on the Sunday. The winning animal team this year was the busy, buzzy Bees.
Just So Festival will return for its 12th year from Friday 19 until Sunday 21 August 2022. For information and tickets visit justsofestival.org.uk
Sarah Bird and Rowan Cannon, Directors of Wild Rumpus, said:
‘It was incredible to welcome all of our Just So families back to the festival at the weekend. We’ve all been waiting for two years to celebrate together and it was so worth it! Seeing families reunite after such a long time was our favourite part of the festival and one of the best feelings we’ve had since starting Just So 11 years ago.
They added: Things have been so tough for everyone over the past 18 months. We’ve all missed getting together with our families and loved ones and enjoying special moments together. We know that our Just So audiences have made lots of new memories this weekend that they’ll treasure for a lifetime!’
Spot On – Lancashire
Spot On Lancashire commissioned two outdoor theatre companies as part of their Commissioning New Lancashire Project in 2019, which came to fruition! Eye of Newt Theatre premiered their show, “The Cabinet of Curiosity” to audiences at Cloudspotting Festival on 24th July. The show went on to tour to three other Lancashire towns: Lytham, Burnley and Darwen. Frolicked Puppet Theatre’s new show “The Conference of the Birds” was shared at Gisburn Forest at the end of August, and will tour Fairhaven Lake and three more venues in October half term.
As part of their work with the Rural Touring Dance Initiative, Spot On partnered up with Arts Alive and dance company Peut Etre to launch a series of dance podcasts for children aged 4+. The first podcast launched on 22nd July and explored ways of increasing digital engagement with audiences and sharing best practice between the two rural touring schemes and the company.
Spot On also distributed 4,000 copies of their “At Home” Magazine, which provided craft activities and content to those unable to access digital activities. The magazine was produced in partnership with Hopeful & Glorious, with funding from Lancashire County Council and Here for Culture.
They have also been building a new website which is due to launch soon.
Z-arts – Manchester
From Hulme Park to Homeground, Z-arts had a fun Summer of Play!
In June, their local community festival “Hulme is Where the Art Is” returned with plenty of activity. There was a new dance piece presented by Company Chameleon in partnership with Z-arts and Trinity High School, themed around wellbeing. On the Music Stage, DJ Rich Reason spun decks throughout the day and there were live music and dance performances from across the Hulme community. Arts & Crafts activities were available throughout the day too. Children and families celebrated the natural wonders of Hulme by creating flower crowns inspired by local flora, festival wands and badges. Or young people could get hands-on with drop-in clay workshops. Chanje Kunda delivered poetry workshops in partnership with the BBC Proms, which were inspired by the 2021 Family Prom, and there were fabulous storytelling sessions to immerse yourself in too. That wasn’t their only outdoor event in Hulme Park. “Playing Out” and “Disco Party” offered free family friendly activities in the park, with outdoor performances, games and activities.
Over at Homeground, Z-arts programmed a series of high-quality outdoor theatre shows alongside a takeover of the Bruntwood Stage. Acts included: Magic Adam; an international cabaret oddity, Dommy B; Cbeebies ‘Rhyme Rocket’ poet, Yemi Bolatiwa, a versatile and powerful contemporary soul singer, Minifest, a fun musical experience for children that adults will love too! Kabantu, a collective from Manchester, and Voices Beyond, a Manchester-based gospel collective.
Back at their own homeground, Z-arts invited children and their grownups to join the Tiger for tea in their 3D immersive exhibition, themed around the world of Judith Kerr’s books. Mr. Bloom (CBeebies) recruited families via a very special video call to help out with some gardening jobs and Simon Mole ran a poetry workshop inspired by his brand-new book, “I Love My Bike.”
Bringing the magic of theatre outdoors has been particularly important during these difficult times. Our outdoor events have allowed us to reach new audiences as well as engaging our regular families in a fun but safe environment. But more importantly, it has been a reminder that you can tell a story anywhere, something which Big Imaginations is keen to embrace by programming theatre in non-traditional spaces in the future.