Years ago, an overheard conversation between a teacher and pupil prompted Alice McGrath to embark on a mission, creating resources for school classes to analyse and reflect on the performing arts.
"They had just been to see one of our shows and the teacher asked the pupil whether he liked it," says Ms McGrath, development director of Edinburgh children's festival Imaginate. "The boy said he was confused by it. It was an opportunity for conversation about why, but she said: `You must have liked it - the dancing was beautiful.' I really felt for that boy."
Since then, Imaginate has looked at myriad ways in which children might respond to performance - through drawing, play and even philosophy. It has also run workshops for teachers and created a pack for staff about review writing.
Now the organisation is developing an online tool, in partnership with digital communications studio Screenmedia, that all schools will be able to access via Glow. It should make turning a class of philistines into theatre critics relatively easy, with no specialist drama experience required, Ms McGrath insists: "They just need to be good facilitators which, of course, teachers are."
The tool is being developed as part of the Co-Create project, which aims to bring arts education resources online for schools across Scotland using Glow. Ten projects are in development, thanks to a partnership between the Scottish Arts Council and Learning and Teaching Scotland.
Imaginate's online tool will take classes through three stages following a performance:
- Describe - children set about recording their memories, writing down everything they remember, from a specific line that stood out for them, to a piece of costume;
- Analyse - pupils put their memories into categories - set design, costumes, script, story, characters, music - and then choose a couple to explore further, thinking about why a director might have made that choice and whether they would do the same;
- EvaluateJudge - children state whether they liked it or not and why.
"I suppose that's the fundamental thing," says Ms McGrath. "Of course it is valid not to like a piece of art or a performance, but what we want to do is skill them up to become good critics."
Imaginate has been working with three schools - Busby Primary in East Renfrewshire, Hightae Primary in Dumfries and Galloway, and Whalsay Primary in Shetland - to help them shape the final product.
Pupils have submitted their images of the ideal teacher (see above) to help Screenmedia design an animated character to guide classes through the three reflection stages.
Busby Primary, meanwhile, has already used the resource to write reviews of Pobby and Dingan, a stage version of the children's story by Australian-based writer Ben Rice (see panel left). However, it won't be until later this month that pupils can test-drive the prototype, following a trip to Edinburgh to see The Terrific Adventures of Brave Joan Woodsword at the Imaginate festival.
As well as honing their reviewing skills, pupils from the different schools will be able to take part in live web chats on Glow about the show and share their reviews.
Gillian Park, a P6 teacher at Busby, says: "This is going to be a tool that will support teachers, or any educators, to get discussions going in their classroom about any performing arts they have seen."
The Bank of Scotland Imaginate Festival begins on Monday.
Ruth Mcarthur, 10
Show rating ****
"Pobby and Dingan were imaginary but Kellyanne thought they were real, Ashmol and his mum and dad thought that Kellyanne was just being a baby. They lived at Lightning Ridge in Australia. My favourite character was Ashmol because he wasn't only the big brother he was the narrator as well . I loved the lighting, and I also liked how Dingan's belly button was a very shiny and beautiful round opal."
Amy Harley, 10
Show rating ****
". I thought it was really good and interesting how everyone (yes, even Ashmol, who thought she was a fruit loop) started believing Kellyanne about Pobby and Dingan after she got ill. It was funny at parts, and I liked Ashmol because he was funny, and I liked their dad because I liked it when he came in singing an Elvis song . The only thing I disliked about it is the bit that Kellyanne dies, because they didn't tell you how."
Rebecca Healey, 10
Show rating ****
". I think that the lighting was good because when it went into a new scene a lot changed, like the part when Ashmol climbs down the mine. I liked how it was set in Australia at Lightning Ridge and the characters had Australian accents. It looked like it was in Australia because of the stones and the houses. I think that the setting should have changed a bit more than it did; that is the only bad thing I thought about it."
THE IDEAL TEACHER
28 in cat years.
Wears a stripy T-shirt.
Good at PE, kind and hilarious.
Best qualities - funny, cute and kind.
No faults - she is a cat.
Her hobbies are PE.
Katrena, Whalsay Primary, Shetland
Aged 20, from America.
Wears T-Shirt and jeans.
Good at PE and swimming.
Best qualities - funny, sporty and happy.
Faults - none.
Hobbies are swimming and climbing.
Chelsea, Whalsay Primary, Shetland
28 years old, from Space.
Good at football, video games and backflips.
Best qualities - good at keeping secrets, video games and tig.
Only fault - he has a breakdown once every day.
Adam, Busby Primary, East Renfrewshire.