Senior Project Manager Eibhlish Fleming visited South Holland Centre as they welcomed over 250 pupils from seven local primary schools for their first visit to the venue, as part of the Start programme.
To learn more about Startclick here

Selected as one of our new partners on the Start programme this year, multi-arts centre South Holland Centre in Spalding, South Lincolnshire was brimming with excited children last week there to see Tales of Birbal by Mashi Theatre. It’s safe to say that Start is in full swing.

For most of them, this was their first time watching a professional live show other than pantomime, and the auditorium was pulsing with anticipation. Tales of Birbal is a story about two characters who have found each other, and adopted each other as aunt and niece. Together they travel through a hot and sticky India, a cohort of crows following in tow, telling stories of Emperor Akbar and his advisor Birbal - characters that feature in many Indian family homes at bedtime.

This visit to South Holland Centre is not the only interaction with the play that these young people have had. Before their trip to the theatre they all had a workshop with Mashi Theatre at school, during which they explored the themes of the story – and even created their own family of crows out of recycled materials. The glee on the faces of the children when they entered South Holland Centre and saw their creations dotted around the foyer and entrance to the auditorium was matched only by the realisation that crows of the same calibre dotted the set of Tales of Birbal. Today, these children were set designers in their own right.

This audience was by no means a passive one. Animated children jumped at the chance to help the characters solve problems, such as how to punish someone who had pulled Akbar's moustache ("Cut him up for horse food!"), or to help the characters use their imaginations (a lowly stick became a doll and a magical wand within the space of a few seconds). Audible gasps were heard when a shadow puppet showed Birbal digging underground to escape being set on fire by an evil barber, and the mere idea of a character wearing 20 pairs of socks brought about lengthy discussions at the end of the show.

When the curtain came down, Parmjit (workshop leader from Mashi Theatre) joined Sally (South Holland Centre Manager) to host a Q&A with the cast of the show. This opportunity to interview artists is forming part of the children's Arts Award Discover journey. Questions spanned many topics, and included:

"What inspires you about this story?"
"Do you get nervous before going on stage?"
"How long have you been acting for?"

There was also a discussion about the other roles that go into creating a professional theatre production, with children hearing the effort that goes into transporting a touring show from theatre to theatre ("It's hard work, but fun!" the stage manager Jess told them from the back of the auditorium).

The next Start visit for these children will be to see A Night at the Theatre, a dance show with accompanying workshops back at school. With theatre, puppetry, craft and dance all playing a part in this project, Start at South Holland is truly providing a well-rounded arts experience for all of its participants.

The Start programme has already been so exciting for us as a small arts centre in a market town.  It has given us the capacity, which simply does not exist otherwise, to offer in-depth participatory arts experiences to children and staff from seven rural primary schools who have challenges in accessing the venue and the arts more widely.  We are also relishing the opportunity for ourselves and schools to work closely on the Programme, to develop our knowledge and understanding of one another.

Sally Harrison, South Holland Centre Manager 

Tales of Birbal production images © Pamela Raith Photography