Festival widens stage

A new scheme aims to bring children's theatre to rural communities, writes Denyse Presley

The success of the annual Scottish International Children's Festival has sparked a year-long event called Imaginate, which will broaden the scope of the Edinburgh-based festival. By staging national touring productions of international works and continuing to illuminate Scottish talent at venues across the country, the festival plans to reach new audiences.

Director Tony Reekie says the week-long festival sells out within a matter of days, which prevents them achieving their aim of giving every child in Scotland under the age of 12 a positive experience of the performing arts. Thanks to the Bank of Scotland, a free bus service has been provided for the past 10 years to enable children to travel to Edinburgh. But the scale of the festival prohibits more than 7,000 children participating.

Imaginate, in partnership with the Scottish Arts Council and Edinburgh City Council and hopefully other funding sources, aims to change all that.

Following on from last year's Scottish showcase at Stirling's MacRobert Arts Centre, Eden Court Theatre in Inverness will play host to 12 Scottish companies at an event in September. Children will be able to see shows such as Red, Catherine Wheels's follow-up to its successful Martha which is now touring Canada, and Antigone, performed by Tag.

Education and arts officers will also have a chance to taste what is happening in Scotland's theatre scene. These professionals can then discuss the merits of the 12 shows and filter through o schools what they think is worth booking. In turn, this screening should help to ensure that the most worthy productions receive funding for future performances.

In April 2001, in what is hoped will be a regular cultural exchange, Scottish artists will visit Denmark to immerse themselves in the annual Danish Children's Festival. This event travels to a different small town every year and such is the associated prestige that towns compete to host and pay for the event, which involves some 60 all-Danish companies. Danish children's theatre is funded to the tune of about pound;6 million, which is more than the entire drama budget of Scotland.

Mr Reekie is now negotiating with international companies to tour rural localities for Imaginate. One likely participant is Canada's Roseneath Theatre Company with its production of In The Time of Magic. This adventure story, with overtones of The Lord of the Rings and Romeo and Juliet, relates the tale of two children, one a wizard who lives in the air and the other an earthling, who come together to save their distrustful communities from being taken over by a Lord of Darkness. The play has recently completed a run in Ireland.

When selecting works, Mr Reekie says consideration is given to the problems inherent in staging them at venues such as village and school halls. "The key word is partnership," he says. Imaginate aims to build relationships with local authorities and arts officers from Shetland to the Borders - many of whom have already expressed interest in the scheme.

Imaginate, tel: 0131 225 8050

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