Take 50 children, add six weeks and put on a show

Douglas Blane finds library books displaced by the Arts Game, in which pupils must learn to work together

ONCE libraries were sombre places full of books no one read, words no one spoke, and a gloom that was merely intensified by an occasional stray sunbeam thick with dancing dust.

Ferguslie Park Community Library in Paisley is not like that. Anyone seeking a quiet snooze should look elsewhere. There are no shady corners in this bright and cheerful library, and in July and August, when children from local schools are taking part in an innovative project called the Arts Game, no one gets to snooze.

Devised by community librarian Anne Louise McGough, and funded to the tune of pound;43,000 for the next three years by sponsors including the New Opportunities Fund and Paisley Partnership, the project challenges 50 children to work together to create and present a live show in only six weeks.

The youngsters, enlisted from 10 local schools and aged between 10 and 14, will write the songs, music and dialogue, design and make the costumes, direct, stage-manage, and finally participate in a spectacular live performance in the Tannahill Arts Centre.

The whole thing will take place in full view of the world, as photos and live videos of rehearsals and creative sessions are transmitted, by technical experts among the children themselves, to the project website.

"It has been compared to Big Brother," said the NOF's Eric Samuel at the official launch earlier this month. "But there is no division between rich and poor sides and there will be no evictions.

"In bringing all the art forms together this is a unique and ambitious project. The way it gets primary and secondary children working together particularly appealed to us, because primary to secondary is a difficult transition for young people."

For listening politely to the commendably brief speakers at the launch, and applauding in all the right places, the youngsters are rewarded by performances from local singers and dancers who have begun to make their mark nationally. Their exuberance and energy soon have the children up on their feet, but for some of the adults the quality gets lost in the sheer volume that pounds their auditory nerves into submission.

"That's how young people like their music nowadays," explains Michael, a chatty 14-year-old from St Brendan's High, as he waits for the workshops to begin. "We want it loud, fun and over-dramatic."

Michael has his name down for a session on website design, while his companions Derek and Chelsea-Anne are waiting for classes in street dancing and drama respectively.

The workshops, which will be available for the duration of the project, have been organised by Paisley Partnership, a group comprising a dozen local agencies - including the council, the colleges and the local enterprise company - whose mission is to promote social inclusion and opportunities for all.

At the back of the street-dancing class, Derek at first seems a little subdued - no doubt because all the other participants are girls. But when Michael and a couple of other boys decide dancing is more fun than websites, Derek loosens up and begins throwing his arms and legs around with the best of them.

"The boys are sometimes a bit inhibited to begin with," says Renfrewshire Dance Project's Dawn Campbell, the dynamic workshop leader. "But once they get into it they're just as good as the girls, and they often put more effort into it."

Next door Alana Brady, of 7:84 Theatre Company, is expertly extending children's dramatic range and expressive abilities with a series of frozen tableaux - on the beach, at the disco, at a wedding. Young Chelsea-Anne, posing with forefinger on cheek and frown on forehead, is, she explains, sitting a maths exam: "And I am very puzzled."

The class is held up for longer than Ms Brady would like by members of the boy band that performed earlier, who are now doing the rounds dispensing kisses and autographs. Regaining the class's scattered wits after the sun-tanned singers have left also takes time, but it's all part of the rich Arts Game concoction of culture, entertainment and planting possibilities in young minds.

"The library is behind all this," explains Anne Louise McGough, whose own background contains the same intriguing mix of performing arts and librarianship reflected in the project. "When you go into a library you can sit quietly or you can have fun. You can learn about dancing, music, acting or computers. We decided to put the whole lot together and came up with the Arts Game.

"Today has shown everyone a little of what people have done in the Paisley area. What you'll see at the end of the project is what these children are going to do. They're the ones putting it all together. They're the ones taking all the decisions. And they're the ones the whole world will be watching through www.artsgame.com."

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