It’s hard to believe that the Olympic and Paralympic games have come to an end. I am the first to admit that I was sceptical about the whole event, and living in southeast London, spent a lot of my time on the run up convinced that I would not be able to leave my flat for the crowds of tourists. But even I miss the air of buzz and excitement that has surrounded us this summer.
One thing that has struck me about London 2012 is how it has succeeded in inspiring people to take up sport. Working in primary schools, I have definitely seen the effect – the children are sport mad and some of them have abandoned drama club in favour of taking up netball or hockey. The BBC news were even asking for people to get in touch with their stories of oversubscribed sports clubs and waiting lists. The big job now, I guess, is sustainability – keeping these clubs going now that the main event is over.
Here at Filskit, our minds have been whirring since our R and D project, and we can’t help but wonder how those of us in the performing arts industry can create a similar effect (on a much smaller scale of course). Over the summer we’ve been lucky enough to visit and work in different venues and catch up with some of our friends and mentors in the industry. On more than one occasion the topic of engaging with a local community or new audiences has been raised.
Of course the job of bringing in the local community or engaging with new audiences is bound to sit mainly with arts venues. They are solid buildings, present at all times, a constant factor within a certain area, whereas touring companies come and go, sometimes only the once. What we’re interested in is how visiting companies can inspire people to get through the theatre door and put their bum on that seat.
We don’t currently have an answer for this. But going back to the Olympics, what was it that inspired people to take up sport? I believe it’s seeing something spectacular, watching people who are at the top of their game achieve something amazing and thinking that you can try it yourself and you might be amazing too. That would work for us anyway.
With our new show for children, The Feather Catcher, we are hoping to create not just one show that can hop in and out of venues, but a whole network of events. As the performance is for ages 3+, we have planned an interactive story time that can go to nurseries or preschools, and we also have plans for a family friendly post- or pre- show workshop. We are also thinking carefully about branching out into a new area for us: Autism Friendly performances. This is by no means new territory in the theatre world, with venues such as Polka Theatre offering Autism Friendly versions of their in house productions. For us, as with the idea of creating work for children, this is an area that we have always felt strongly about but never considered we would be able to do, until we were approached at a sharing of our work.
By expanding the theatrical experience for children we want them to see theatre and the arts as something more than passive entertainment – something they participate and invest in, just as they do in sport. True, it will be difficult to replicate the superstar status of Chris Hoy and Ellie Simmonds, but contact with the performers and those who create the arts could still ignite an passion that could last a lifetime.