IGNITING BIG IMAGINATIONS WORKING TOGETHER TO GROW CHILDRENâ€™S THEATRE
5 years of Big Imaginations 15 member organisations
130,476 people engaged
170 Shows programmed
Big Imaginations festival launch
Big Imaginations At the heart of Big Imaginations is a network of 15 venues, from grand auditoriums to rural village halls and everything in between. These venues are equal partners in the network. They all have a responsibility to contribute, co-operate and share resources and skills for a common purpose – to make the North West’s children’s theatre offer bigger, better and more affordable.
Big Imaginations’ 4 key objectives: 1. Audiences: We aim to develop and nurture long-term relationships with audiences and to market a
programme of touring work for children and families, generating experiences and inspiring people through great art.
2. Promoters: We co-ordinate and support a consortium and touring circuit in the North, enabling quality
children’s shows to come to the region more readily, and making it cost effective and sustainable.
3. Artists: We aim to develop and nurture long-term relationships with artists who are making excellent
work for children, specifically work of a diverse nature to reflect the communities we serve.
4. We support and encourage cross-venue partnership working to support other members and to share
resources and skills, developing CPD for children’s theatre with programming, marketing, audience development and sharing best practice.
Setting Up Your Network Anna Franks external Big Imaginations evaluator, Anna Franks Marketing
The Colour of Me
If you are considering which partners it might be valuable to work with to develop your family audiences, keep the following pieces of advice in mind: 1. Time – Don’t underestimate how long it takes to set up systems and establish procedures. All partners/ venues need to understand how much time commitment is needed to benefit from being part of a consortium. 2. Learn from others – Big Imaginations continually shares what works and what doesn’t across our
3. Know what you want to achieve in the first place – Big Imaginations feels very strongly that the
original vision still stands. However, being able to adapt to achieve that vision and respond to lessons learnt along the way has been essential for Big Imaginations to thrive.
4. If possible assign a central co-ordinating person or organisation – Keeping your network
on track takes a significant amount of resources. Identify a lead organisation or person and try and find investment to remunerate accordingly so they can dedicate a proportion of their time to making things happen.
5. Be clear about agreed expectations from members – Setting expectations out from the start
has meant that all network members have a shared understanding of their responsibilities and what is expected from their fellow members.
My bright idea
Running the Network Anna Franks, Anna Franks Marketing
‘You get out what you put in.’
The more committed you are to contributing, sharing and supporting the activity of the network, the more value you will get out of the shared learning and peer support. If you don’t commit the time to contribute you will not get any benefit from participating. “...what it really enables is for you to share best practice and…the different disparate experiences, in that you might talk about those, or you might pass them on anecdotally, but actually to sit there and practice them and say, ‘Well, this worked well when this happened,’…I think that’s incredible beneficial.”
Photo credit Lizzie Henshaw
Practical learning points have emerged from running the Big Imaginations consortium: 1. Don’t try and have too many physical meetings – Time and resources can be stretched – an
optimum number of meetings is four a year. Try and hold the meetings at different venues and connect them to seeing and discussing a children’s show.
2. Manage your network with transparency and fairness – This is always a challenge, but make
sure you encourage fairness and trust across your network. Clear and frequent communication is critical.
3. Identify joint working opportunities – The Big Imaginations network has worked on many family
audience projects together, including the festivals and commissioning new work. The value of working together is one of the network’s key successes. Subgroups with shared interests can work well to drive things forward.
4. Schedule time for reflection and evaluation – In the early days of working in partnership you will be
trialling new ways of working. Give your network space to reflect and evaluate whether what you are doing is helping you move towards achieving your common goal.
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The Importance of Audience Development Louise Flooks, Participation Manger, Unity Theatre
Unity Theatre works hard to engage people in the work we do, both on and off our stages. We worked with Big Imaginations to develop and strengthen our Audience Development Plan specifically for children, young people and their families.
Our top 5 tips to achieve this are: • Working with a person who is external to our organisation has been so valuable in providing us with an objective viewpoint. • It’s essential to question and challenge your own organisation about what your audiences need and want, and remain flexible in responding and building a strategy for this. • Use clear language; establish realistic goals and timelines; use SMART objectives to achieve what you want to achieve. • Step off the well-trodden path sometimes and look at using other ways of engaging audiences. • Being part of the network means that we can research what works well for others and learn from them too.
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Big Imaginations Festival launch
Marketing and Press Emma Lloyd, Principal Manager: Programmes, Audience Development & Enterprise, The Atkinson
The last 5 years has taught us to look at the following points before starting any Marketing and Communications campaigns: • Amend releases and copy to appropriate tone for the audience and their needs – what is the story? Use the ‘so what?’ factor to really find what the news angle is. What makes this different? • Copy is king – sharable, interesting and engaging copy will make you stand out to press and audiences. • Keep your digital strategy simple, engaging and planned. Post at the right time, with the right info to the right demographics. • Make sure your promotional material fits the product; digital assets, images and artwork can make or break an event. • Make sure the information you send out is correct. Families have to trust your brand to build a relationship with you and then to recommend you to their peers and family/social network.
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Engaging Community Audiences Louise Harney, Family and Youth Engagement Coordinator, Burnley Youth Theatre
Big Imaginations has helped to build audience development plans with targeted outreach, including community ambassadors schemes: • Identify your target audience - To effectively reach them, build relationships with key community workers. • Community workshops - It is important that both the parent/carers and children are present. Effective planning and communication with the key worker is essential. If in schools or nurseries, facilitate the workshop at school drop off time for the best parental engagement. • Facilitate an exciting creative workshop themed on the upcoming production (storytelling, creative play and arts and crafts). • Promote the show with marketing material and make the families an affordable offer. Identify any barriers - if transport is an issue, organise a walking bus or help to plan a bus route. Give support and help overcome barriers. • Performance day - Facilitate pre-show creative workshops, provide a family picnic space where the families can socialise, and provide an arts and crafts space. Make the experience enjoyable for families, one that they want to repeat.
My bright idea
Dommy B in When Trolls Try to Eat Your Goldfish
Developing Relationships with Artists to Drive Audience Development Danny Woods, Marketing Manager, The Citadel
Big Imaginations has strengthened relationships with lots of artists over 5 years. Here is one example. Over the past 3 years we’ve developed a strong partnership with Dommy B to develop new audiences in a number of ways: • Through outreach in 5 schools ahead of the shows When Trolls Try to Eat Your Goldfish and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, engaging with over 150 pupils, encouraging them to bring their families to the performances - A great opportunity to build relationships between venue and schools and build familiarity between school and artist for future outreach. •
We took over an empty retail space in St Helens and engaged with 26 children and their families using workshops. Although a successful way to engage families, this could have had greater impact in terms of audience development if it had been programmed further in advance to the show – It did result in 22 new families attending the Citadel.
We’re very excited to continue this partnership with Dommy B and have programmed him to perform at In the Street Festival this summer!
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Creating a Diverse Programme Liz O’Neill, Z-arts CEO/ Artistic Director and Big Imaginations Chair
Big Imaginations Festival launch
With a network like Big Imaginations, diversity might be about different tastes, regions, audiences, artforms, artists, subject matter as well as protected characteristics. We must keep reminding ourselves not to limit what ‘diversity’ really means, and cater for the genuinely diverse needs of each consortium member. • All consortium members are encouraged to submit suggestions to the menu of touring shows available to the network. Many voices and views increase the range of work on offer much more than a single programmer can. •
When we curated the Big Imaginations Festival to only feature work made by culturally diverse artists, we chose not to promote that to the public, other than in some targeted community campaigns. The result was an increase in first-time audience members, and a higher number of BAME audience members than the regional average. This shows what’s considered ‘risk’ isn’t risk at all, if you...just programme it!
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Making Yourself More Accessible
Z-arts family access day, taken by Emily Armstrong Zoe Pickering, Children’s Theatre Programmer at Z-arts and Big Imaginations Manager
We undertook an access audit with All In Access across our venues to identify where we were and where we wanted to go. We had training from All In Access and Triple C. Our key learning from this process was: • Ask – Ask for feedback. Invite people with additional requirements and disabilities into your venue to watch your work, enjoy your facilities and give you feedback . •
Check – Where are you now and what have you already got?
Do a quick audit of your venue and website.
• Communicate – Give access a platform in your organisation and have it as an agenda item. Tell your staff and your audiences what you are doing. •
Embed access from the start of any planning – don’t do it as an afterthought.
• Strategy – Be strategic in your approach. Have a plan - don’t think you need to have everything to start with. Have a list of quick wins, medium-term aims and a longer-term blue-sky list that might require fundraising. •
START – Just get going!
Quick Access Audit:
Surveying your facilities with different access requirements in mind is an excellent staff activity. Do you have: Online access information? Hearing loops? A travel guide to your venue? Disabled parking spaces? A venue description or social story?
Large print or braille programmes and menus? A named contact? Access info linked to the performances? Automatic doors? How wide are they? If not, does your front door have a door bell or intercom?
Working with Volunteers or Community Run Performance Spaces Lyndsey Wilson & Jen Henry, Scheme Managers, Cheshire/Lancashire Rural Touring Partnership (Spot On Lancashire & Cheshire Rural Touring Arts)
Big Imaginations has loved programming in community settings. Lyndsey at Spot On gives a brief overview for companies and performers: • Communication is key! Get in touch with your contact person at the venue as soon as possible, confirm arrival times, access to the building, parking, how long you need for get-in/out and ask for other local knowledge. • Embrace the community you’re in. Volunteers have given up their time to host the event - be polite to them. Many volunteers have lots of experience to offer so don’t assume they’re inexperienced. • Technicalities. Don’t assume there’ll be technical support, the power supply is likely to be a 13 amp circuit so make sure you use nothing that will overload this. Remember to bring your own extension leads. Lights blackout might not be possible. • Every space is unique. No two venues are identical - find out your playing space, discuss the layout of seating, think about sight lines – try not to have too much happening at floor level where only the front row will see you
For more information you can visit www.ruraltouring.org
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Developing Creative Relationships with Schools Nina Hajiyianni – Artistic Director of Action Transport Theatre • Get to know your schools and teachers; who is the lead school for your local TSA? (Teaching School Alliance). Develop a good relationship with them and this can pave the way for relationship building with a cluster of other schools within that alliance. • Research current cultural education partnerships in your area. • Following schools on their Twitter feeds is a great way to keep up to date with what they are involved with. • Who are your SLICE specialists or equivalent (Senior Leaders In Cultural Education), an initiative led by Bridge Organisation Curious Minds in the North West which identifies teachers who champion cultural education in their schools and across school clusters. • Find out about your LCEP (Local Cultural Education Partnerships) and become a member. • The theatre experience at your venue can start before and follow on after the school visit, - add value through pre and post work activity or production specific resources. • Arts Mark and Arts Award are often incentives for schools who are committed to developing cultural educational priorities. Are you able to host an Arts Mark event working with your bridge organisation or schools cluster? Having a member of staff trained to deliver Arts Award can be a pull for schools too. • Encourage schools to invite parents along with any school visits as a way of audience development in your local community.
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Commissioning an Outreach Show Zoe Pickering, Children’s Theatre Programmer at Z-arts and Big Imaginations Manager
Aim: To get the hardest to reach audiences to access high-quality arts and encourage them to access it at our venues. How we achieved our aim: Big Imaginations commissioned Ruthie Boycott Garnett to develop a set of workshops and a high-quality show to go into community settings to engage early years audiences and their families. Here is our step by step guide for commissioning an outreach piece: • Identify the audience / area you would like to work with. Why do you want to work with them? • Ensure you have a clear brief for the artist to follow. • Secure community partnerships and buy in from the host venue. Without this you will not be as successful because they know the community better than you do. • Get to know your audience with your artist. Don’t guess – ask! • Listen to feedback and ensure you filter feedback to the artist – feedback from 15 people all at the same time is too much. • Be adaptable – make sure the workshops or show can adapt to any space and be flexible. You may have to start late, accept more people, or change things to suit the people participating. • Expect the unexpected and reap the rewards of meaningful engagement with families. • Evaluate and document accurately what works and doesn’t work.
The Adventures of POM
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Early Years’ Commission Holly Sharp, Communications and Producing Assistant, Z-arts and Big Imaginations
Sponge is an early years piece by Turned On Its Head, commissioned by Big Imaginations in 2016. To date Sponge has been performed 161 times across 50 venues to 8,487 people. It continues to tour in 2018. Top tips for commissioning early years work: • Work with your audiences: Sponge was initially developed in community venues. Working with target audiences from the early stages of development was invaluable in making age-appropriate work, provoking exploration in the rehearsal room that otherwise may never have happened. • Touring: Any interest in touring was documented, even when falling outside of planned tour dates. This was then used to create additional touring periods. • Communication: Both the company and commissioner were easily contactable and honest about any concerns or problems. • Share knowledge as a network: Share gaining insight into the processes of budgeting, tour booking, drafting contracts, etc. • Evaluation: Sponge was continually evaluated by gathering feedback from venues, the company and audiences. This is an example of working with your audiences, helping influence Sponge as a continually evolving piece of theatre.
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Commissioning Work for 8+ Liz O’Neill, Z-arts CEO/ Artistic Director and Big Imaginations Chair
Big Imaginations feels 8+ audiences deserve brilliant theatre as much as the next person. We commissioned two pieces of R&D in 2017: Adrift by Action Transport Theatre and You, Me & I by Urban Conceptz. Big Imaginations members found commission as a network brought lots of benefits: Collective decision making: “how you make decisions as a group of people, and how you whittle it down, work out how you’re going to make choices as a group. I think it was a really valuable process”
Sharing best practice: “to have quite a few other experienced programmers and producers that pull out different points, because they’re looking at an audience from a different perspective to you, or an artist from a different perspective, or they have a relationship with the artist that you don’t have or ...when you do it as a panel, you have to think about the legacy of the piece much more so, and how it’s going to tour…” Dealing with challenges: “that whole delay of that piece actually, it was really useful to talk about that. Why has this happened and how can we support this person going forward.” Unexpected outcomes: “a really nice offshoot and unexpected outcome that actually really benefited.”
L -You Me + I, R =
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Adrift, photo by Sam Ryley
Big Imaginations Festival launch
How to Make a Successful Regional Festival Liz O’Neill, to Z-arts CEO/ Artistic Director and Big Imaginations Chair
The 2017 Big Imaginations Festival offered 9 shows and 101 performances; with 5,003 audiences, 1713 participants and 351 people attending outreach sessions across 29 locations, predominantly in the North West, presented in theatres as well as less traditional settings such as libraries and community centres. Working collaboratively meant we could: • Programme cost-effectively, including enabling companies to remount shows to take part in a regional festival. • Overcome geographical differences by creating clusters of venues with similar outreach targets, and creating projects that could be repeated at different locations. • Create a festival brand that sat across all venues, including banners, bunting, t-shirts. • Market each other’s shows over social media, promoting the festival brand rather than competing for audiences. • Secure sponsorship for the first time, from 6 businesses who saw the value of a regional platform.
“Feeling we’re part of something bigger that was happening across the North West is great.” - consortium partner My bright idea
Big Imaginations developed their own set of questions to explore quality. This enabled the network to account better for different tastes as well as how to evaluate whether a show was right for Big Imaginations.
Please give details for the following statement: I walked out of the show and felt.... Please score the following areas out of 10 Concept / Story Quality of script / content Skill of performer Quality of set, lighting, props etc Character development Integrity / Investment in piece Any other comments about production quality?
Please score the following areas out of 10 Age appropriate Theme relevant to audience Relevant to venue (if in your venue) Cost to venue Length of show Any other comments about the relevance of the piece?
Please score the following areas out of 10 Audience engagement Marketing - Does it speak to the audience? Value for money for audience Overall experience Any other comments about the audience?
Any additional engagement? Please describe or add in what other participation activities could be added to support the show:
Do you have any concerns / misgivings about the show / company or message of the piece?
Do I want to develop family audiences by working collaboratively?
Theatre is a Rhythm Walking Child by Joseph Coelho Commissioned by Big Imaginations Festival Theatre is a rhythm walking child stomping in a flared suit of velvet-curtain red, lighting up the stage with hands full of surprise her mouth giggling fairytales. She is a griot, a Birbal a trapezing travelling storyteller of big imagination.Mashing myths with memories and histories catapulting you on musical journeys. She is here, in this space between seat and stage. Your touchstone to story, your turnpike to imagination. Go with her she will somersault you along the edge of the waterside where your dreams dream of you. Go with her, she has frights that will delight, she has the Boo! That is spot on. Go with her.
She is theatre, she jangles the keys to the citadel, to happily ever afters, to the wild rumpus to a joy, a party, a festival A lesson. A mirror. Go with her. She is a body of light that fades shadow. That melody, that clarinet, double-bass that lets you drift in worlds of deep breaths and magic. Go with her, with him, with them the players, the singers, the dancers that place words into the mouth of your soul through music, through drama, through poetry. Go with them because they are you. Go with them because you are theatre. Lean in because you are welcome.