Regional early years theatre scheme takes off

An early years project aimed at bringing theatre to more than 3,500 children in rural and less advantaged areas has selected six theatre companies that will be part of the scheme.

The Hopper project, a 20-month collaboration between Take Art, Surrey Arts and China Plate, is being trialled in Somerset and Surrey, where it will tour throughout 2018.

The six selected theatre companies were announced after months of ‘intense’ competition following a national call out for participants.

Over the next two years, Hopper will work with the six chosen companies to develop or adapt theatre shows for pre-schools, nurseries, village halls, libraries and children’s centres, focusing on children from areas of low arts engagement and deprived backgrounds.

Tamsin Mosse, Hopper project manager at Take Art, described the scheme as ‘pioneering’.

‘Social mobility in Somerset is very low. We think we can increase opportunities for disadvantaged families by creating a sustainable touring network of early years settings that have been encouraged to take on the role of promoters,’ Ms Mosse said. 

The effectiveness of this new approach will be assessed throughout by an independent evaluator. The evaluation will inform a sustainable operational model that could be replicated in other parts of the country.

 The chosen companies are:

  • Tangled Feet
  • Dancing Strong
  • Hikapee
  • Second Hand Dance
  • Flibbertigibbet theatre
  • AYCORN East (a collaboration between Charlotte Arculus of Magic Adventure and Joy Haynes of Norwich Puppet Theatre).

The winners had to demonstrate a broad repertoire of art forms, including dance, theatre and music, as well as being culturally diverse in their approach.

Three of the theatre companies will adapt one of their existing shows for the early years and tour with it during the Hopper scheme. The other three receive research and development for new shows funded by Hopper.

‘We were thrilled at the response, the standard was very high and competition was intense, with over 70 applications from the UK, America, Norway and Spain. The six successful companies all offered something visually exciting, intriguing and full of potential,’ Ms Mosse added.

A representative from each company will be invited to take part in a 'Lab programme', a residency that will bring artists, early years staff and theatre managers together to explore how to reach more children with quality performances.

Paul Warwick, director at China Plate, an independent producing studio working with artists, venues, festivals and funders, said, ‘The Lab is a chance to increase the amount of live performance that can tour into early years settings – taking the work directly to children who may not have seen theatre or dance before. It’s such an opportunity, and could spark an interest in the arts that lasts a lifetime.’

The Hopper scheme has been funded by a £100,000 in grants from the Arts Council, and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and aims to encourage more artists to make high quality shows for the under-fives.

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