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Guest Blog: Caroline Wigmore and Jen Green On Golden Toad Theatre's Creative Activities For Children

Guest Blog: Caroline Wigmore and Jen Green On Golden Toad Theatre's Creative Activities For Children
Golden Toad Theatre's Co-directors
Caroline Wigmore and Jen Green

We started talking about creating a children's theatre company a few years ago, with the theory that children's musical theatre requires and deserves the same development process as musicals written for an adult audience... and sometimes even more.

We absolutely love writing for young audiences, but often found that the development time on commissioned shows was - for completely understandable reasons - short compared to what you'd expect for a similar 'grown-up' show. Our work always goes through multiple workshops, many redrafts, and we test new material on actual kids!

One thing about a young audience that we find both challenging and endearing is that they will tell you exactly what they think. If adults aren't interested in something they're watching in the theatre, they usually just switch off - but children will start wriggling, eating, going to the toilet, and are very vocal about what they do and don't engage with. Getting a show right for an audience with a short attention span can be incredibly rewarding though. There's nothing quite like being able to make an audience of children roar with laughter or hearing them singing your songs on their way out of the theatre.

As a company, Golden Toad Theatre seeks out the rights to popular children's books to adapt for the stage. Our audiences love engaging with the stories and characters from shows both before and after the actual performance itself, so for each show we create bespoke interactive activities to help them explore key themes. This isn't to say that we have a dry, educational approach - for example, on our current show, Errol's Garden, we have worked with animator Lee Cooper to bring Gillian Hibbs' original illustrations to life in a series of short videos inviting children to create crafts and their own indoor gardening projects.

Guest Blog: Caroline Wigmore and Jen Green On Golden Toad Theatre's Creative Activities For Children
Errol's Garden

It's been a crazy past six months. With our scheduled 2020 tour postponed until next year, and the theatres still closed until further notice, we are working hard to create opportunities for children to continue to engage with theatre and the arts from the safety of their homes, and to encourage their talents. We are grateful to have received emergency funding from Arts Council England, which has allowed us to create a series of fun activities and opportunities for isolated children.

We know that different children engage with the arts in different ways, and make sure that we reflect this. We are currently inviting children to record themselves singing in a music video of a song from Errol's Garden, alongside West End stars Joe Griffiths-Brown and Courtney Stapleton. Previously this summer, we ran a songwriting competition for under-11s: the winner, eight-year-old Jessica, had her song "Constellation" professionally orchestrated by Jen Green, with a vocal recording by Stapleton. When Jessica heard her finished song, she said "That's exactly how I imagined it in my head". Head to our website to see the video - it has a brilliant hook, and we can't wait to hear what Jessica does next!

We also commissioned author/illustrator Gillian Hibbs to create an Errol's Garden-themed colouring sheet and to judge our colouring contest. The winner, six-year-old Cotty, was very pleased to receive a video message from Gillian and a signed copy of the original book.

All of our online offerings are free and we hope to make a real difference for children during these strange times - we know firsthand how difficult it has been in lockdown for children and their parents/guardians. Errol's Garden is currently taking bookings for spring 2021 so, assuming it is safe to do so, we will be back in theatres again next year - we can't wait! In the meantime, to get involved with our children's activities, or to find out more about the shows we have in development, you can visit us at goldentoadtheatre.com


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