“Good theatre gives us an experience that can stay with us for life”
This week we’ve been in the rehearsal studio, putting together our latest Literacy Musical, Treasure Hunt.
What is a Literacy Musical, I hear you ask?
In short, they are musicals created to inspire a love of reading and storytelling. Since West End in Schools began we have been touring schools with these original musicals. Each one includes an original story and songs, while featuring contemporary children’s books as part of its narrative.
Ahead of World Book Day 2019 we spoke to the writer of the musicals, Craig Christie. He spoke about how the content of the musicals has developed over the years:
“What became apparent was that making kids actually engage with new literature was really challenging, and so I thought that if I found a way to weave the books into the narrative, that would create a context for the children to actually read them and explore them further.”
As well as the performance in a school, each literacy musical also comes with a resource pack of activities and materials that schools can explore before or after the show. These relate to the books featured in the musical, as well as the themes explored by the piece.
As Craig explains, “it became apparent just from my teaching perspective that I wanted more content than just coming up with a fun storyline or setting to inject the books into. So the second stage of the development was to develop the personal development themes or educational themes within the narrative.”
In Treasure Hunt one of the key themes is the environment, and the importance of caring for our planet. This came about as a result of what children are learning about in schools. “We looked at the curriculum and the environment was a big topic, so that was a way into it. I came up with Treasure Hunt, based on a workshop I’d run as a drama teacher years ago, and the idea of losing the soul of the forest and how do we get it back.”
The theme of caring for our world also feeds into the books featured within the narrative:
“It’s quite a challenge to find a book that satisfies all the requirements creatively and artistically in the context of the story. Finding the right texts that really marry into the narrative is important… we choose an overarching theme and what books go into that, and so [in Treasure Hunt] it was our relationship to the planet and each other, and our place in the world that seemed to me the most poignant and relevant.”
In Treasure Hunt the three books featured are Under the Same Sky by Britta Teckentrup, Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers and This Morning I Met a Whale by Michael Morpurgo.
“We read lots of lists, checked through lots of books, and these were the ones that resonated most effectively. [The real challenge was] finding something that was going to satisfy all levels of development, which is why it’s important to approach things thematically. Because even the most simple book which you can present at one level to Reception can actually still have the most profound content with regard to Year 5s and 6s if they’re taught properly and you introduce them properly.”
In terms of what the children take away with them after the show, it’s about more than having a better understanding of the books. “I would like them to have had a really good theatre experience primarily. That’s something that often gets a bit lost, but first and foremost we’re doing a musical theatre piece, and it’s really important that the kids are engaged with the artform, that they’re brought into narrative and enjoy the songs and enjoy the performances, and that the narrative has real pace, and it’s an exciting, good experience for kids to have just from an audience point of view. And the other thing of course is that they engage thematically and that they go away actually thinking about their place in the world, and what they can do proactively about the world. I think it’s important that they’re empowered and about asking them to make a difference.”
Finally, we spoke about why it’s important for children to see live theatre:
“Because we need to engage imaginatively. And more and more because of being the invasiveness of the media… we’re losing our ability to imagine and to dream. I think it’s important that theatre teaches us to engage imaginatively as well as literally. And reading allows us to do that and theatre allows us to do that. And with our shows I think they’re a perfect blend of both. I just think it’s vital for kids’ developments to remember how to play and to be taken out of where they are into somewhere else, and to be taken there in an experiential way, because we forget what we’re told but we remember our experiences, and theatre - good theatre - gives us an experience that can stay with us for life.”
We’ll be visiting schools across the UK with Treasure Hunt from 25th February 2019 onwards. If you’d like to book a performance for your school later this term or in the summer, get in touch!