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Working with artists for a quid;Arts

Raymond Ross previews Glasgow's annual arts festival

Inspiration from Word, Glasgow's annual festival for schools, is selling fast. The festival runs from October 25 to November 5, and most of the 5,000 tickets for the 200 events across 20 venues have already been sold - 3,000 went in the first five days.

Part of the key to this success is in the pricing. A Glasgow City Council subsidy allows individual tickets to be sold for pound;1 - and each school booking includes a free workshop from one of the 30 companies and individual artists taking part. Companies and artists include the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Theatre Cryptic, Ludus Dance Company, TAG Theatre Company, Theatre Sans Frontieres, Wee Stories Theatre Company and writers Janet Paisley, Gordon Legge and Des Dillon.

"A major thrust of the festival is to develop young people's writing, but it is also about promoting social inclusion," says Eona Craig, the city's arts and recreation officer for education. She particularly welcomes Scottish Friendly Assurance's new pound;5,000 sponsorship. "They came on board specifically to help get the festival into peripheral areas of the city. They are helping companies get to outlying venues like Drumchapel and Cranhill, and subsidising special buses to bring pupils into the city centre venues.

"This has allowed us to bring new schools to the festival and we now have about a quarter of Glasgow's 400 schools taking part. That's not a bad ratio," says Ms Craig. "The added bus fares can be the straw that breaks the camel's back when it comes to peripheral schools' participation, especially the smaller schools.

"Our target is to enhance the core development work of the schools and education services. We offer a slightly different experience of school work and hope that through writing and performing the pupils get a new and different feel to school work that will make it memorable."

So the dovetailing of performance attendance with workshop participation is central to the ethos of the festival. For example, Primary 6-7 pupils will first attend the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's performance of Berio's Opus Number Zoo, a pantomime for wind quintet that sets animal antics in a contemporary, cartoon-like world. They will then take part in a workshop exploring how words and music combine. This culminates in a joint performance by pupils and musicians.

Ludus Dance Company's show Sold, a hard-hitting physical theatre production for P7-S4, explores issues of child labour across the globe. But first pupils can take part in a workshop introducing the differences and links between our lives and the lives of child workers.

Special festival projects include TAG's Special Delivery,where a box of props is sent recorded delivery to the participating class. The box contains materials related to curriculum work they are already doing. Then a day-long residency culminates in the pupils' presentation of ideas.

"Involving the young people in creativity is as important as them making up an audience, if not more so," claims Ms Craig. "It's important that they see themselves as artists or creators, as participants in the arts. So we treat them with the same level of professionalism and give them the same strength of platform we give professional companies."

The evidence for this can be seen on the walls of Glasgow's underground stations for at least the next month: Our Home, a poem by P5 of Lorne Street Primary, Govan, and writer Janet Paisley.

Also to the fore in this year's festival is a young theatre collective from Drumchapel, presenting its own dramatised response to Joan Lingard's Across the Barricades, and tackling issues of conflict and sectarianism. The company, Cast Project, ranges from 14 to 20 years old. They are producing, performing and directing themselves in the Cottier Theatre.

Ms Craig's one regret this year is the relatively low number of secondary schools taking part. "We are working with five or six from the city's 30 secondaries. It's a big problem to get secondaries to come into the city centre because of the pressures of the exam curriculum. It's about practical difficulties - time and flexibility. It takes a very dedicated teacher to bring the pupils in. I would say this is our major challenge for next year.

"Pre-school and primaries are our mainstay. All these shows are practically sold out. In terms of the secondary schools we've only sold some 70 per cent plus of tickets in advance."

A lot of commercial theatre managements wouldn't exactly cry at that figure. Target setting, as they say, can be relative.

Inspiration from Word booking hotline 0141 287 5522

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