Queen Frog marries song, dance and drama

o give a new twist to the proverb, what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gosling, in Dumfries and Galloway at least. Its Creative Education Arts Team (aka Create) has just completed a ground-breaking collaborative project involving 330 children, their teachers and nursery nurses in 11 pre-five centres in Annandale and Eskdale.

With the help of a Scottish Arts Council grant, Create began by commissioning composer Paul Rissmann to develop the work he has been doing with other local authorities in Scotland, and take the artistic lead in a project that was to be rooted in the cultural landscape of the dales, for which the twin towers would be the Hugh McDiarmid memorial and Robert the Bruce's Cave. The composer created a "singalong" CD for children and an instrumental score for professional musicians, which included four original songs and music for dance.

Franzeska Ewart, who is originally from the region, was commissioned to write the text for the project. She devised the story of "The Queen Frog's Wedding". This royal amphibian had her palace in the River Annan, and was revered by all the other animals in the dale for her magical powers and remarkable history. Music and text provided the framework that the children would explore in song, dance and drama during the 12 weeks of project work.

To carry out this work, Create contracted professional artists Fiona Miller (drama), Dawn Campbell (dance) and Ali Burns (singing) to work alongside the composer and writer with the children, as they worked towards their final performance. Equally importantly, the whole team contributed to two days of continuing professional development for the teachers and nursery nurses, whose participation was crucial.

In collaborative workshops at the the 11 pre-five centres, children learned the story of Queen Frog, assimilated the interwoven cultural references, practised the songs, and built and developed dance and drama pieces for the performance. The children also had the opportunity to create their own compositions, which were incorporated into the show.

There were two performances, both sell-outs, in the Richard Greenhow Centre in Gretna. Now the Create team plans to produce a "Queen Frog's Wedding"

pack for all the Dumfries and Galloway pre-five centres. This will include the new text, songs and music, and DVD of the performance. It will also contain material for related CPD work.

Lesley Sloan, the cultural co-ordinator for the performing arts, who has been managing the project, summed up by saying: "It has been an exhilarating and most enjoyable experience from which I and the rest of the team have learned many lessons.

"There are obvious benefits to this kind of arts work. I was really impressed by the co-operation between the artists and the teachers, and the children really benefited."

Further details tel. 01387 720774www.createdumfriesandgalloway.com

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