Our year-long Young Producers project culminated in a brand new production for young people and their families, The Boy Who Became A Beetle. Both the Young Producers project, and the resulting production, were funded by Arts Council England who published a case study about their investment. You can read the case study below, or on the Arts Council England website here.

This article first appeared on the Arts Council England website on 13th January 2016.

Here’s what happens when 100 eight-year-olds produce a professional theatre show…

Two theatre companies in the West Midlands have been working with 100 children aged 8 to 10 to produce a professional theatre production.

The project has inspired the young people to be creative, make decisions and learn practical business skills.

Pupils from one special educational needs (SEN) school in Wolverhampton and four primary schools across Sandwell, Dudley and Walsall took part in the project. Together, the children worked with Little Earthquake and Black Country Touring to become Young Producers.

For many of the young people it was their first experience of theatre.

Over the course of an academic year, Little Earthquake’s Gareth Nicholls and Philip Holyman and other professional members of the creative team led workshops at each school.

They encouraged the Young Producers to make all the creative and business decisions that go into a professional theatre production.

The pupils decided on the show’s themes, helped to develop the story and contributed to the script. They helped to recruit the creative team and influenced the music, costume and set design.

Once the show was in rehearsals, the pupils took on the role of Young Promoters. Working with marketing professionals and a graphic designer, they crafted promotional campaigns to get audiences through the door.

In less than 10 months, these Young Producers played a fundamental role in creating and producing The Boy Who Became a Beetle.

This original play was inspired by the story of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It was billed as a funny, messy and moving show for everyone who knows what it’s like to feel different.

Created by Little Earthquake with lots of input from the pupils, it told a story of standing up for the powerless and celebrating unconventional families. It combined emotional truths with visual and physical comedy.

All of the five schools hosted a performance of the production for their local community. At each venue, the pupils were responsible for stage management, Front of House and running the box office.

Around 700 people watched the play in their local community before it toured around the region.

At Arena Theatre, mac Birmingham, Oakengates Theatre and Warwick Arts Centre, the play drew family audiences of over 500 people.

The Young Producers were all welcomed as VIPs to a special red carpet premiere at Wolverhampton’s Arena Theatre. The event was a unique opportunity for the pupils to see their hard work come to life on a professional stage.

The Young Producers were all welcomed as VIPs to a special red carpet premiere at Wolverhampton’s Arena Theatre. The event was a unique opportunity for the pupils to see their hard work come to life on a professional stage.

For many, it was also their first experience of visiting a theatre.

The Young Producers project was supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Talking about the funding and why it matters, Peter Knott, Area Director, Arts Council England, said:

“Every child has the right to a great cultural education; one which fuels their imagination and teaches them practical and creative skills. The Young Producers project is a great way to bring arts and culture into the classroom and we’re proud to have invested in making it happen. It’s projects like this which are helping to inspire the young people who will go on to shape the future of our creative and cultural industries.”

Aims

The idea behind the Young Producers project was to involve young people in the creation of a new, professional touring show for families. The first aim was to introduce pupils and their teachers to professional theatre making by involving them in the creative and business decisions that go into the production process.

The second was to give families in the West Midlands opportunities to see new, professional, family friendly theatre. With this in mind, the Young Producers’ goal was to design a new play to entertain and engage children aged three and older.

Impact

Through the workshops, the Young Producers learnt the skills and expertise needed to make and market great theatre. By being part of the production process, pupils gained the confidence to be creative, make decisions and respond to challenges. It was an opportunity to work as part of a team and to see their ideas valued as equal and important.

One pupil said: “I never had ideas that actually went into a real show before.” Another explained: “I promoted a cool, exciting touring show.”

For the schools involved, the Young Producers project was an opportunity to explore different ways to teach new skills.

Some teachers reported improvements in attendance from young people with previously low records. Others noted how pupils who previously struggled to engage in small groups began to contribute more and more in each workshop.

Some teachers reported improvements in attendance from young people with previously low records. Others noted how pupils who previously struggled to engage in small groups began to contribute more and more in each workshop.

“It was intriguing to hear the children’s conversations about the importance of roles and their evolving realisation that initial views of one person being the ‘most important’ were incorrect,” explained one teacher.

“The group now has a greater understanding of the many people that are crucial in the creation of a theatre production.”

At the end of the project, teachers also saw increased involvement from parents. There was a greater understanding of the creative industries as a source of learning and their role in the local economy.

One parent commented: “It’s fantastic seeing families enjoying it, [I’m] proud of our children who organised it.” Another audience member said: “It’s encouraging seeing young people putting on a first class show.”

Learning

Schools which brought a whole class or year group together for the project gained the most continuity and impact of teamwork. This approach also allowed teachers to cross-reference the project with the wider curriculum.

Enabling pupils from SEN and mainstream schools to work together had a positive impact for the young people and their creative decisions. This integration defined the themes the children chose for the play: inclusivity and equality.

A challenge of the project was the need for long-term scheduling and the balancing of complex curriculum demands.

Time constraints often meant pupils from the five schools could not work together in the same place. However, the red carpet event was a successful opportunity for the pupils from all five schools to celebrate their achievements together.

Little Earthquake is now working on new creative projects but hopes to tour  The Boy Who Became A Beetle in 2017. Black Country Touring is planning a smaller, shorter pilot project for a Young Promoters Festival. The aim is to build on the successful elements of the Young Producers project.

Commenting on the project, Philip Holyman, co-Director of Little Earthquake said: “Each Young Producer, teacher, school, artist and audience member has had the chance to learn and to share, to come together and to be entertained through this project. It was a very special demonstration of the personal and professional value to individuals and to communities of having arts on their doorstep.”