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Meeting the needs of very young audiences in Scotland

I see - and mostly enjoy and admire - a lot of theatre for very young children and love sharing it with groups of enlightened parents and their (usually) rapt children who ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ and occasionally make perceptive, audible comments which add to the action and make the rest of the audience smile. It will be a long time, before I forget for example, hearing a boy of about two and half loudly singing back - uninvited but welcomed - the three note, four syllable, leitmotiv in Little Angel’s mini opera Skitterbang last year.

So I was delighted to have my attention drawn to Starcatchers, a project which supports theatre for under-4s in Scotland.

Starcatchers was piloted at North Edinburgh Arts Centre from 2006 to 2008 and was funded by National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and SAC. It created three productions for under-3s - Little Light, My House and Peep. Through ongoing collaboration and interest in work for this age group, Starcatchers was then involved in the development and creation of two further shows for very young children - We Dance, wee groove and Archaeology. The pilot project was supported by action research led by Dr Susan Young from the University of Exeter and Dr Niki Powers from the University of Edinburgh.

Well, it all went well and praise was heaped on performances. But then the funding ran out. The will to build on the legacy was strong, however.

Starcatchers has now moved to Imaginate, the Edinburgh arts organisation which promotes and develops performing arts for children and young people in Scotland. And it has financial support from the Inspire Fund. This new phase means Starcatchers can be more ambitious and spread its remit more widely.

It has plans, for example to create “a programme of world class productions for very young children” and to establish “four year-long artists’ residencies in key venues, providing time, space and resources for experimentation and practice development.” And that’s in addition to getting involved in training people who want to create performances for this age group.

And it is training and the desire to share good practice which underpins the Starcatchers International Symposium, which is taking place at the McRobert Centre in Stirling on 22/23 March.

According to the programme: “The Starcatchers International Symposium will celebrate the work of this ground-breaking project, giving delegates insight into the Starcatchers Artist residency model and the action research study from the University of Strathclyde.”

It continues: “Delegates will hear about the Starcatchers Artists’ creative processes and their impact on the communities where they were based. There will also be the opportunity to see some of the performances that have been created.”

And finally the conference will hear: “Key speakers selected for their expertise in early child development giving voice to the growing movement supporting early intervention in Scotland, with a particular focus on the importance of creativity. An international panel will share their experience and reflect on what they have seen and heard at the event.”

All this is most encouraging. I’m passionately in favour of anything which helps to produce work which changes the lives and experience of children for the better. But audience members are probably the best judges. “Our three year old loves Starcatchers,” my journalist colleague Thom Dibdin tells me. “So they are clearly doing a lot that’s right.”

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