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Year six pupils prepare to transition to 'Big School'

WELL-PREPPED: An actor captures the essence of a child's concerns about joining secondary school (photo credit: Nicola Young)

THE COVENTRY-based Belgrade Theatre is preparing to tour more than 20 primary schools around Warwickshire with its theatre-in-education show called Big School – Room to Grow, which aims to reach more than 1,500 year 6 pupils who will make the transition to secondary school.

The unique performance combines live theatre with participatory activities to explore children’s feelings about the move to secondary school and equip them with useful strategies for dealing with this big change in their lives.

Big School has been devised by the Community & Education Company at the Belgrade to specifically engage pupils through the broader theme of change, exploring both the move from primary to secondary school and the child’s journey towards adulthood.

The show was originally written and directed by the Belgrade’s associate director Justine Themen, and is this year being remounted by education officer Claire Procter, a veteran theatre-in-education practitioner.

It will be performed by Leon Phillips and Kim Hackleman who both have extensive experience in working with young people through drama.

Room to Grow tells the story of best friends Mo and Ash. With Mo about to make the move to big school, the pair play out their fears surrounding making new friends, facing bullies and navigating the corridors of secondary school in the safety of their secret den. Their friendship is tested as they also deal with changes to their family lives, with Mo’s father working abroad and Ash worried about the arrival of a new baby.

MEMORABLE MILESTONES: Actors perform in front of year 6 (photo credit: Nicola Young)

Procter said:

"Theatre-in-education is a powerful and collaborative too for learning. It engages pupils in meaningful interactions through drama, which is designed to give voice for their feelings and experiences.

“Big School provides children on the threshold of moving to secondary school with the opportunity to explore some of the challenges of change and empowers them to be active in seeking ways of overcoming these challenges.”

Originally delivered in partnership with the local education authority, the Big School programme has been touring local primary schools in Coventry since 1998, and last year played to almost 2,000 school children across the region.

The theme of responsibility is one that has run throughout the Belgrade’s theatre-in-education programme over many years, beginning in September 1965. The original company toured with an infant age-level piece called The Balloon Man and the Runaway Balloons, a primary-level piece called The Secret of the Stone and a secondary-level piece called The High Girders.

Big School continues the Belgrade Theatre’s legacy as a pioneer of theatre-in-education during the 1960s. The theatre-in-education movement spread to theatres across the UK and then to broader contexts across the globe, inspiring a wide range of participatory theatre with children and young people.

2015 marked 50 years since the Belgrade’s theatre-in-education company was established which was celebrated through a year-long programme of events called Inspiring Curiosity. This included two festivals of theatre created for and by young people, as well as a two-day conference exploring the relationship between theatre and learning.

As a registered charity the Belgrade Theatre relies on the support of audiences, funders, members, corporate partners and donors to continue projects like Big School and its work within the community.

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