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The shows must go on

Learning and playing can go hand-in-hand, in school and out, writes Heather Neill

Jeremy had acquired an angry-looking gash above his left eyebrow by the time we started to follow the silver trail. When you enter the Theatre Museum, in Covent Garden in London, almost anything can happen and things are not what they seem. Jeremy's nasty cut had been been carefully applied in a make-up demonstration during the second part of his school's visit. He and fellow students from Salesian College in Battersea, an 11-16 school for boys, had first tried on costumes as Queen Elizabeth I, a pearly king and weasles and stoats from The Wind in the Willows. Then they joined the silver trail, looking out for metallic ribbons.

The Theatre Museum's special exhibition for the summer is best described as a series of interactive installations; any with the ribbon mark invite a hands-on reaction. Pieces that have been made for theatre companies specialising in visual theatre for the young can be tested, played with and turned into mini-dramas.

One of the Salesian College teachers, Sarah Owen, said she was delighted by the way the boys in her group, mostly Years 7 and 8, were co-operating, plunging into experiments, putting their heads through holes to complete puppet shapes, following a maze made of tape measures. For information, tel: 020 7943 4700.

The Theatre Museum has been awarded pound;330,000 from the New Opportunities Fund. Another lucky recipient of funding - from the Arts Council - is the Unicorn Theatre, about to start building an arts centre for children in Southwark, helped by pound;4.5 million. While it is "nomadic" (having given up its home at the Arts Theatre two years ago) this energetic children's theatre company hasn't been idle. As well as education work associated with shows (the next is Pinocchio in the Park, a "madcap modern version" of the old tale, by Michael Rosen, starting in London's Regent's Park Open Air Theatre on August 1), there have been exciting "stand-alone" projects involving many London schools.

One of these, Home Stories, came to its conclusion with a performance of The Way Home on Monday at St Augustine's CE primary school in Kilburn Park, a culturally mixed area of west London. Year 5 children had been working for 10 weeks with musicians, a storyteller and a visual artist, and this was a promenade performance, starting in the school hall with a welcome by Unicorn's education director, Alison Barry and, led by African percussion, proceeding to the playground, back to the hall and finishing in a ground-floor classroom. They had made the story of The Green Children their own by weaving in personal experience and pieces they had written, such as a rap about living in their neighbourhood.

The ideas of travelling between cultures, of the need to make a strange place home, of the destructiveness of prejudice were there, but not hammered home. The telling of an exciting story with dance, drama and song, some scripted words and some improvised, mattered most.

Many of the parents at St Augustine's had already been involved in two storytelling evenings when they and the children were invited to bring stories from home or objects important to them. The resulting poems and artwork were on display. For information about Unicorn's shows and education projects, tel: 020 7700 0702.

Some were less lucky when the Arts Council funding decisions were made. The Young Vic's building was meant to last for five years - 30 years ago. It is still standing, houses exciting work on one of the best-loved acting areas in Britain and is known for attracting young people and making lasting relationships with schools. Look out for information about the opportunity to stage your own Hamlet when Peter Brook brings his production from Paris.

Artistic director David Lan had an important announcement to make last week. While launching a campaign to raise more than pound;6 million to keep the building functioning, he said he wanted the Young Vic to be known as a centre for young directors. The Jerwood Foundation has provided pound;60,000 to allow three young directors who have never worked on a main stage to have five weeks to work on a play of their choice with six experienced actors. The winners are Crispin Bonham Carter, Afia Nkrumah and Dawn Wilton. Young Vic box office: 020 7928 6363.

Money worries are familiar enough to schools. The Artworks Survey of Art and Design Resources in Primary and Secondary Schools, commissioned by the Clore Duffield Foundation, reports that even the most favoured group of art students in schools, the 11 to 18-year-olds, have only pound;2.68 each spent on them in a year. The full report is available on But nothing stood in the way of Mill Water school's "Tate Modern" Summer Exhibition in Honiton, Devon. A beautifully produced catalogue, full of examples of children's work, accompanied an exhibition at the school, a major winner in the Children's Art Awards earlier this month (Friday, July 6). This was the culmination of a long project visiting and learning about Tate Modern and Tate St Ives and undertaking cross-curricular work on the themes in the galleries.

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