Catherine Wheels are currently touring Scottish primary schools with our new show for P2-5s, Stuck. I am on the road with the multi-talented Craig Fleming (production manger), and my fellow performer, Michael Sherin. Michael has never created, or indeed performed, for children before and his enthusiasm for the experience of touring to schools and enjoyment in connecting with children, has reminded me why I love putting theatre into a school environment.
We have been touring to schools since we began over 12 years ago and the reason we keep returning is mainly pragmatic, as that is where our audience is. But more importantly, it is hugely satisfying to create theatre which engages children and teachers in their own environment. In schools there is no artifice between you and the audience; no lights, no darkened room to enter, just a school hall, each one a different size with different acoustics. These are spaces that belong to the pupils, teachers, janitors and dinner ladies of that school and it is a special experience to enter their space and attempt to transform it from a gym or dinner hall into a performing area.
For me there is no distinction or hierarchy between performing on Broadway or in a small village school in rural Scotland. I say this not to be disingenuous, but because I love presenting shows in a space which is familiar to the audience and where they are close enough to touch you, pass a dropped prop to you and be noisily engaged with what they are experiencing. I also love watching teachers who are visibly surprised that they are as engaged in the production as the children they teach!
Our new show Stuck follows a similar staging to The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk with the audience sitting in carpeted areas and the actors performing within and around them. We have few props and the set consists of a table, a filing cabinet and lots of plastic sheeting. However, from this we manage to create a giant boat which fills the badminton court of the hall and really does evoke gasps from the audience – unexpected but rewarding. Both Stuck and Pondlife have toured schools over the past 6 months and the enthusiasm of the schools we have visited means that schools touring will always be a central part of our artistic programme.
Thanks to all the schools we have visited in the past 2 weeks and especially to Wombat the Janitor in Duns Primary who not only offered us coffee when we arrived but helped with the get in and the get out… my hero!