Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” – Albert Einstein

Well, what a week it’s been here at Filskit Theatre Company. Between the three of us we have spent roughly 32 hours on trains, seen 24 performances of eight shows and consumed what must be gallons of tea. But it was all for a very worthy cause, as we attended the Imaginate Children’s Theatre Festival in Edinburgh.

Whilst this was our first time at the festival, Imaginate itself has been around for quite a long time: in their own words, “Every year the Festival presents the finest selection of shows from Scotland and across the world; each and every one adding their own wonderful character and zest to a programme of exciting and stimulating shows to suit children and adults of every age.” And boy, they’re not kidding. It was an exciting, international programme bringing together shows from as far flung as the USA (Intergalactic Nemesis).

The festival is open to the public and many a school group giggled along to shows such as Chalk About by Christine Devaney (Curious Seed) and Leandro Kees. Along with family audiences, these festivals are always popular with people in the theatre industry such as venue programmers, as they’re a great way of watching a large range of diverse, new work in a condensed period of time. The traditional route for this is through the purchase of a delegate pass. There are various delegate packages available, depending on how long you wish to attend for and how many shows you wish to see. We attended the Take Off Festival in Durham as delegates back in November and had an amazing experience. But, as you can imagine, these delegate passes certainly do not come cheap and when you add on train tickets, accommodation and food to the ever-increasing costs, it’s no wonder that small, newly-formed companies are often under-represented on the delegate list.

Luckily for us, we were thrown a lifeline. Instead of buying our delegate passes, we all attended the festival as volunteers. Our various duties included meeting school groups, front of house work and answering phones. In return, we got to enjoy the Imaginate experience, fully equipped with shows, talks, networking events and even a ceilidh. As a young company, we are always keen to see other shows – it can help shape your own work and inspire you to push the boundaries of your practice. For us, this was such a fascinating process. We could view a cross-section of contemporary dance, puppetry, comedy and projection, suitable for a range of age groups and all in one city.

One of the things that we like most about attending theatre festivals is being surprised: we all go with a list of shows in our heads that we think we are going to absolutely love, but sometimes it is the unexpected ones that really make an impression. One of our highlights from Imaginate has to be Maas Theater en Dans’ Wanted: Rabbit from the Netherlands: very funny and very, well…Dutch! Another favourite of ours was The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean by Scottish artist Shona Reppe, a quirky piece with great pace and an excellent design.

At a recent Theatre for Young Audiences event at Rose Bruford College, there was a lot of praise for children’s theatre from Europe, particularly from the Netherlands and Belgium. There is no denying that European work is innovative, beautifully simple and very well done, so we can completely understand its popularity within the industry. The big question for us is how can emerging TYA companies from England capture this quality in our own work? How can we allow ourselves to be less conservative and take more risks? One thing that seems to be working for Scotland and Imaginate is exposing new TYA companies to this work early on, by supporting them in attending TYA festivals both at home and abroad. This exchange makes perfect sense to us. Whether you see moments that inspire you or that make you think “let’s never do that”, the work that you see will impact that which you create. So, which European festival to visit first… hmm.

Image: Einstein Bikes