Blog: Introducing Playboxes

Some of the puppets from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2011) that are inspiring our Playboxes content

This month we have been sharing our archive with local primary school teachers and asking how this could help them in the classroom across the full breadth of subjects they teach. Chichester Festival Youth Theatre Director, Dale Rooks, describes the process so far and tells us how it feels for her own work to become a teaching resource:

As part of Pass It On and in partnership with our partner primary schools we have set out to create three ‘playboxes’. One to focus on past performances at the Theatre, one to look at the spaces of the Theatre including the important thrust stage, and the third to focus on individuals and the contribution they have made to CFT.

By the beginning of May we had three different cardboard boxes full of material from the archive that could go into these playboxes, ready to share with the teachers from our partner schools. They then told us more about the curriculum requirements and how the items we shared with them might help with curriculum outcomes. Based on what they’ve told us, we’ve selected some things from our cardboard boxes and brought more items from the archive to put in – and in some cases we have asked our colleagues at the Theatre to make new things for us. Each time we’ve met we’ve introduced the teachers to more materials and more detail about how life at the Theatre works.

Our ‘miniature’ pulley system – very special thanks to Chris, Karl and Jim from the Tech Dept. for this one!

What I’ve enjoyed particularly has been the process of sharing expertise and collaborating with the teachers; we’ve been able to take the world of the theatre and make it useful. So – just as a tiny example – we’ll be using short script extracts to support the English curriculum in reading, grammar, plot breakdown, character descriptions and creative writing; we will be introducing props, costume and set designs to support art; we will be looking at the differences between ticket prices over the years to support maths; and looking at changes in seat sizes to support Design Technology. Our Technical team have even built a miniature pulley system to show how we ‘fly’ things onto the stage, also demonstrating how we avoid putting excess weight on the Theatre’s roof. I really wish we had filmed the ‘buzz’ in these meetings and the growing enthusiasm as more things have been gradually introduced. It feels to me like the teachers have gained a real sense of ownership of the material.

For the ‘performance based box’ our teachers have chosen three past productions to focus on, selecting items from every aspect of the show; rehearsal notes, cue sheets, set models, sound effects, puppets, props, and photos of the actual production. One of the shows they have chosen to focus on is the Youth Theatre’s production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which I directed at Christmas 2011. For me, going through this material has been like reliving the whole experience and it’s been a real privilege to watch the teachers’ excitement over how they might use the resources. It also feels really appropriate to have a link between the young people who were part of this production and the children who will be using the playboxes in schools. The age gap is not so wide, so it’s not too distant for them.

Our teachers and L&P Director, Rupert Rowbotham, working hard during one of our development sessions

What’s most exciting for me is the potential benefit this could have for young people. I want all young people to feel excited about theatre space and resources. This will provide an early opportunity for them to build a relationship with the theatre, an opportunity to access the theatre in a unique way. They will all feel welcomed into the theatre, regardless of whether they visit outside of school, through engaging with something that is really different. There will be something in these boxes for everyone as they will cover all aspects of the curriculum.

Building sustainable relationships is at this heart of this project and I can’t wait to see what the outcome will be.