It’s strange, having worked in, around, with and for Kids Week for the last decade, I have had a particular experience. I’ve seen first-hand the enjoyment of young people taking part in a show’s workshop activity. I’ve felt the tension and exhilaration of the first day of ticket availability. I’ve interviewed parents, children and stars thrilled with the opportunity to be part of this annual festival of family theatre where children can go free to a show and take part in a linked activity.
It’s always been clear why we at Society Of London Theatre stage Kids Week. I’ve always recognised the joy it brings, the chance to experience incredible shows and get involved with this fabulous creative industry. But it was only this week that I had the chance to feel the excitement and warm parental glow of seeing my own child making the most of this opportunity for the first time.
You never quite know how he will react. He’s three. A room full of similarly aged children could spark parent-grabbing shyness or headstrong charging accompanied by a suitable bellow. Following a performance of We’re Going On A Bear Hunt – a great show for kids that age, by the way – the Stalls bar, with plastic cunningly taped to the floor in a pre-emptive strike against rogue paint and wandering glue, was filled with children spanning this entire range of emotions. That, right there, is the reason I could never be a primary school teacher.
The Bear Hunt cast, however, still in costume and complete with puppet baby, were entirely unfazed by the excited littl’uns. They couldn’t go over them. They couldn’t go under them. They had to go through them. And so they did, dividing into groups – suitably labelled the ‘googly eyes’, the ‘fluffy ears’ and the ‘wet noses’ – and helping them explore the show’s different landscapes for themselves. They decorated butterflies in the meadow, created and sploshed through the river, made their own crepe paper grass to swish and swash through.
At their most basic, these were fantastic holiday pastimes. Decorating butterfly templates with glitter glue and colourful materials is a classic creative activity. How many children don’t like casting off shoes and socks to paddle through water? This is probably how most, if not all, of the kids experienced it, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. My son had an incredible time. He couldn’t wait to tell his Mum about splashing in the water or proudly fly his butterfly to her.
But how much more will they remember their trip to the theatre having met and played with the cast, having watched them striding through the inventively realised river on stage, then gleefully stepped gingerly in and out of buckets themselves?
Maybe one of the children, having helped make the same grass as they’d just seen on stage at the Lyric theatre, will one day pursue an interest in stage design. Maybe one of them, having helped create the river, moved buckets, filled them with water, will find themselves in stage management. Maybe, inspired by meeting the actors and singing with them at the activity’s climax, they’ll take to the stage themselves. Maybe they simply had enough fun that they will see what Kids Week offers next year or that come the autumn or the winter they’ll ask what other shows they could see.
It really doesn’t matter, does it, as long as they had fun, got involved and had a new exciting, enjoyable experience that might play a small part in helping them grow into brilliant people? My boy did. It made me proud of him and proud of my colleagues and friends who help make Kids Week what it is.
Take advantage. See a show. Try an activity. Any activity. It’s something new. It’s something different. And that smile, the one that creeps unknowingly onto their face when they’re lost in a game, loving learning a new skill or concentrating on putting a face on a butterfly, makes everyone’s time and energy worth it.
For more information about tickets and activities, visit the Kids Week website.