It’s not unusual for people to associate ‘drama’ with performance, but with very young children the focus is on creating opportunities for exploration and imaginative play, says artist and theatre maker Heather Fulton.
Climb up, up, up the stairs, right to the top of the Music Hall, open the creaky door and step into the attic.
There are a few things we need to look out for when we explore the attic
There might be some little mice; maybe some spiders!
Watch out for the holes in the roof – the rain might get in!
Let’s take the dust sheet off the piano…
This was the scene that opened my third week with a wonderful group of mums and their nearly 2-year-olds in Aberdeen. The aim of this session, like any other, was to create a space where people feel relaxed, happy and intrigued – a space where imaginations are sparked.
On the Piano fellow artist Matthew played beautifully as the mums, dads, grannies, grandpas and toddlers explored the boxes of bags, shoes, dressing up clothes and fabrics. When the music paused we all hid from the mice, and ended with a tea party with imaginary tea and knitted cakes.
It’s not unusual for people to associate ‘drama’ with performance, or at least working towards some kind of performance. But, particularly in my work with very young children, the focus is simply on creating opportunities for exploration and imaginative play, where the children (in this case with their parents!) are inspired to come up with their own, new ideas and shape the narrative.
Yes, I have suggested an attic with lots of objects in, but these objects do not exist in a vacuum. It was the children and their parents who brought them to life with their emotions, ideas and energy.
In this particular session the group already new each other very well. In two previous sessions we’d explored themes around the sea and islands, and being up in the air with the clouds. Not only this, but the parents and their little ones are part of a bigger project run by Aberdeen Performing Arts to introduce a group of babies, who were born in December 2017 in the North East, to the arts from birth. They have engaged in artistic and creative activities together for the past two years.
The fact that the participants in this group were already at ease with each other made it easier for them to creatively explore the objects, enabling them to bring the ‘attic’ to life with enthusiasm and vigour – energy that can be inhibited by uncertainty or feelings of self-consciousness, particularly among adults.
This session was relatively ambitious, with rich rewards, but not something that I would introduce straight away without activities to help participants first feel at ease, get to know each other and build confidence in responding creatively the stimulus provided. It’s testament to how important sustained engagement is, rather than one-off projects.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is seeing how young children embrace the opportunities and how their adults, over time, relax and grow in confidence, opening their minds to the infinite possibilities of playful interactions with their children.
Heather is a theatre maker/director and artistic director of Frozen Charlotte Productions. She also delivers Starcatchers’ Creative Skills training, focusing on drama and has been a lead artist for a number of Starcatchers’ Community Engagement projects.
This blog was written as part of Starcatchers‘ campaign Making My Mark, a celebration of the role that arts and creative experiences can play in helping our youngest citizens learn about their rights.