Interactive theatre performances have a big impact on school children's literacy and personal development, say teachers. They are full of praise for the companies that tour schools, such as Tutti-Frutti Theatre. Its 45-minute show, The Emperor's New Clothes, has been a big hit with teachers and children in its two-year tour of Leeds schools. The play is one of four productions which have been tracked in order to assess the impact of repeated theatre experiences on pupils aged three to six years.
There are two remarkable things about The Emperor's New Clothes: one is the naked four-foot Emperor puppet, the other is that no child in the crowd calls out the truth.
Instead, the cast ask audiences to consider what might have happened - opening up debate. And debate, about stories and their moral crises, is one important element of theatre in schools. Teachers have reported excellent results from work sparked off by the performances.
For Tutti-Frutti director, Niladri, touring schools provides access to a wide range of young people. "It's not dependent on parental influence and cuts across cultural and economic barriers," he says.
Daniel Buckroyd directs Theatre First, based at Southampton's Nuffield Theatre and, like Tutti-Frutti, tours a mix of schools and public venues. It offers Shakespeare for key stages 2 and 3, currently A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. Pupils become involved in performances in a way designed to reinforce understanding of the play. "There are other worlds, often in conflict, so they become implicated in a partisan way," says Buckroyd. He has also adapted Anne Fine's Bill's New Frock, using the kind of objects all schools will have as part of the set, so children and teachers can feel empowered to create drama with available objects.
At Roundabout, Nottingham Playhouse's long-established schools touring operation, director Andrew Breakwell reports secondary schools are limited by timetables and curriculum. He has recently toured Mike Kenny'snew play about bereavement Walking the Tightrope, to primaries (re-touring this spring with Travelling Light, see listings), managing to include several secondary schools. These invited local primaries in to watch the play, alongside their own GCSE students, who stayed on for a workshop on theatre techniques used in the production.
London's Theatre Centre has also completed tours of two pieces for teenagers, Roy Williams' Souls and Anna Reynolds' Look At Me, about pupils risking exclusion.
Two projects from West Yorkshire Playhouse's active education department show the value of professional theatre in schools. In Living Stories, Shanghai-born actor David Jiang uses contrasting story styles for two traditional tales, introducing unfamiliar language and cultural aspects to responsive audiences. And in Stepping on the Cracks, Mike Kenny explores the pent-up feelings of childhood quarrels, evoking responses and resolving feelings difficult for 3-5s to explain.
For secondary schools that is done in Next Step, from the Borderlines project at Newcastle-under-Lyme's New Vic Theatre, through a workshop and performance on the way negative emotions stoke anti-social behaviour. Remarkably, the cast, who double as workshop leaders, are mostly aged 15 and speak from experience.
Glasgow teachers could latch on to the annual Inspiration festival in October, mentioned now because it's a book-first system (information in June via email from firstname.lastname@example.org). There's work for pre-school, primary, secondary and special schools.
Last year this included high quality work such as Oily Cart's pre-school storytelling Knock! Knock! Who's There?, TAG Theatre helping pupils create a modern Labours of Hercules and Wee Stories' Andy Cannon helping pupils create a Greek chorus and various characters for the story of the Minotaur.
Many school shows have public performances at weekends and holidays. See the For Young People section of the Touring Preview. Companies would be pleased to talk to teachers and help with bookings. It could be a half-day well-spent.