Last year, I was a little creature in the play. I learned what it was like to be on stage and have hundreds of people looking at me. But this year, I've learned to organise all this." Eleven-year-old Vicky Abbott is part of the publicity team for Flight of the Eagles, a play devised and produced by the children of Tidesmill and Grinling Gibbons Primary Schools, Deptford.
"This is the third project we have done with Tidesmill," says Debbie Scott of L'Ouverture, a multimedia arts company. "Previously, the children worked as performers, stage managers and technicians. This time, their responsibilities have been extended to front-of-house and publicity as well."
The children have been involved from the very start. Author Petronelia Breinburg went into Tidesmill School in October and several classes worked with her to create the story, which concerns a plane hijacked to an island in the sky, home of a wicked professor. A team of script-writers dramatised the text and then the stage-managers edited it. Parts were allocated and rehearsals got underway, with Tidesmill providing the acting and Grinling Gibbons producing the singing and dancing numbers.
Meanwhile, the front-of-house team measured the hall and designed a seating plan and ticket system and arranged interval refreshments; a host of children worked on set and costumes; and the publicity office created posters, programmes, wrote letters and liaised with the press. Computers have been used throughout and the technical know-how of the children is immediately apparent: "We've been sending faxes backwards and forwards to Grinling Gibbons," says 10-year-old press-officer Rebekah Clough. "When someone says, 'Let's put on a play', you think it's just about learning the words. But we've learned all about the paper-work and the mathematics - it's not as easy as it looks"
The 294 children involved have been guided by theatre professionals, including a director, an actor, a designer and a technician. The project is funded by Deptford City challenge, Lewisham Equalities Unit and Toyota (through the Education Business Partnership) and, during the process, the children have learned how a book is turned from idea into reality - the book of Flight of the Eagles will be on sale at the performance.
A week before the parents see the show, Tidesmill is bursting with masks and costumes and Grinling Gibbons' playground is festooned with bits of the professor's cave, while the hall is busy with children learning how to use the sound board and a chorus practising a song based on Martin Luther King's "I have a dream". "This has been a taste of the real world" says Seewah Samuels, year 6. They seem to have relished it.