What theatre can teach us

6th December 1996 at 00:00
Run your eye down the staff list in a theatre programme and you will probably find someone with "education" in her title. It is almost always a "her", by the way. At worst, she is someone hired to help marketing tap into the schools audience; at best, she is part of the theatre's development strategy.

As she is at the Traverse. As a demonstration of how seriously the theatre sees Claire Beattie's work as "education co-ordinator", it started paying her full-time last year, and out of its own pocket (there was no money from the local authority). And it has brought her into the arts policy team, along with the artistic director and the dramaturg.

Beattie sums up her role simply: "The Traverse is a new-writing theatre, and needs to create an understanding of new writing. And we have to do it in a creative way, for that is what matters to the children, and what matters to the Traverse."

This is a far cry from what she calls "the numbers game", the "bums on seats" of the conventional schools matinee, and "the easy option of putting on plays that schools want".

Her breakthrough came with Irving Welsh's Trainspotting, a landmark event for the Traverse policy, being a play in the local idiom which enjoyed both critical and box-office acclaim.

It was not, as Beattie puts it, "a play that Mum did. A new play is a clean slate. Not 'something we did at school', but 'something we did at the Traverse with our school'. Because it is contemporary, the children bring their own values and their own perspectives to the experience."

It says something for the curriculum that these ideals can find a place in the timetable. Beattie identifies the creative writing element in Standard grade and in the Sixth Year Studies English folio, and scripting in Higher drama as her ways of helping the children and teachers, and trims her demands on school time to a minimum.

The result is the Bank of Scotland Class Act, which happened for the eighth time last week, and for two nights brought full houses of friends and parents to see the work of 70 children from four Edinburgh schools on the Traverse stage.

Four schools were chosen from the 14 that applied to achieve a balance of neighbourhood, age and interest.

Four playwrights visited the fourth, fifth and sixth-year students, helping them shape their scripts. Finally, the students spent the day at the Traverse, attending the rehearsals by the professional directors and actors.

The key experience for the students is having their ideas and writing taken seriously by professionals. Away from the pressure of their friends, teachers and parents, the results can be, according to Beattie, "unpredictable and amazing". This, plus the thrill of being in the audience for their own work, Beattie hopes, will be enough to move some of them to join the Young Writers Group (open to anyone aged 16-22 years), which starts at the Traverse in January.

Traverse events: 0131 228 3223

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