In May last year I was lucky enough to be at the opening of the Brighton Open Air Theatre, or BOAT as it is known. It was a moving, humbling and inspiring night. BOAT has opened thanks to the generosity and hard work of a few local people who persisted with determination in making this dream a reality. It has not had a penny of public subsidy. You can read the full story of how it came to being here.
The BOAT is a magical space. During the opening night I had a strong sense that I wanted to do something to build on the community-led way that it came into being. I wanted to do something to enable children and young people to feel like this space belongs to them too.
So, I came up with an idea to set up a children and young people’s festival of outdoor theatre in July each year, once the exams have finished but before the schools break for summer.
I set up an open meeting in July 2015 and another in September 2015 to see if others liked the sound of the idea. Just over 50 people came along. They were a mixed group of head teachers, drama teachers, youth theatre workers, arts development workers, theatre companies, theatre makers, directors, producers, writers, funders, other theatres and festival programmers.
There was a fantastic atmosphere at both meetings and the people who attended had loads of expertise and experience of similar initiatives. I was thrilled that there was unanimous support and enthusiasm for the idea of a festival of theatre for, by and with children and young people in the BOAT. Many of the theatre-makers present had ideas for shows they would like to create specifically for this magical space.
People also had lots of great ideas about how the festival should work:
- The importance of a balanced programme that has work by professionals for children and young people and work that children and young people have made themselves with performances targeting different age groups
- An interest in the festival being socially engaged and having a political and/or international focus, perhaps looking to the BOAT’s story of people power driving positive change as a possible festival theme
- Getting funding to target and involve children and young people who might have a talent for drama but who might not have access to the resources to develop this
- Creating opportunities for theatre makers and writers to collaborate with children and young people from diverse backgrounds who are aspiring theatre makers and writers
- The importance of playing with form and ensuring the content of shows are relevant to diverse audiences in order to develop theatre making locally e.g. performance poetry, innovative participation
- The importance of the festival being inclusive of the full diversity of Brighton’s communities and the shows presented reflecting this
- To programme a range of workshops by inspiring theatre makers to encourage children and young people to make their own work for the space in new way
Brilliantly, the BOAT has booked Saturday 2nd July – Sunday 17th July 2016 as a result of these meetings for us to fill the space with theatre created for, by and with children and young people. Thank you to everyone who came along whose time, energy and ideas have got us this far.
You can download the full report of the first meeting here: Report from the first meeting to discuss a possible Children and Young People’s Outdoor Theatre Festival at BOAT – 21st July 2015-2 copy.
And you can read a blog about the first meeting by Richard Freeman from Always Possible, here.
Since the meetings I have met with the Arts Council’s Children and Young People’s Manager who was also very supportive of the idea. I’ve got the support of BOAT, always possible and a PR and Marketing firm to support the festival. I’ve spoken to the brilliant Liz Moran at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Kent for advice and support. I’ve contacted some of the UK’s most interesting theatre-makers who are making work with, by or for children and young people and have got commitments in principle for them to deliver some workshops and curated projects as part of the festival. I’ve set up a programming team to provide advice and support to get the festival off the ground this year with these fabulous people:
Julia Box, Brighton and Hove Council Youth Service, Linda Dupret, Head Teacher St Paul’s Primary School, Claire Raftery, BOAT Trustee, Donna Close, BOAT Trustee, Debbie Fitzgerald, BHASVIC Drama Teacher, Dulani Kulasinghe, Banyan Tree Theatre, Emma Edwards, Facepack Theatre, Jackie Alexander, Theatre Royal Brighton, James Turnbull, The Old Market, Bex Fidler, Brighton Dome and Festival, Janette Eddisford, ACT, Anne-Marie Williams, BOAT Manager, Richard Freeman, Always Possible.
In the last few weeks we’ve launched a website to enable people who want to be part of the open access strand of the festival to apply to be a part of it. You can find out more here: Starboard Festival website.
We’ve also written a funding application to the Arts Council for some core costs to enable us to get it up and running and to curate some projects that would develop theatre making with, by and for young people in the city.
And we’ve started conversations with a range of theatres and other arts organisations about them programming work into the festival. So far the Brighton Dome and Festival and South East Dance have come on board as partners, in order to programme a show in this magical space. We hope that other theatres might join them and that next year we might be able to secure a commissioning budget to programme work in the festival.
If you have any questions please contact me – it would be great to hear from you.