The seventh Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival is starting next week and will feature a host of opportunities for children and families to get involved. The multi-venue festival is the brainchild of Greenwich Theatre artistic & executive director James Haddrell.
“When I took over seven years ago we had the annual panto but very little else for the family through the year,” said James.
“I was convinced that was a big mistake and that family audiences were incredibly important to us. You have to engage with people throughout the year if you want a relationship with them, so we launched the Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival.
“In the first year we were supported by the Docklands Light Railway and we presented 10 shows in two venues, here at Greenwich Theatre and at the Tramshed in Woolwich. Since then it has grown year on year and we are now presenting something like 70 performances at five venues around the borough. It’s run over three weeks and has become one of the biggest children’s festivals in the country, which we’re very proud of.”
The seventh Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival kicks off on Tuesday, April 1 with Momo, the theatre’s co-production with Filament theatre based on the book by Michael Ende, who wrote The Neverending Story.
Other high points of the festival are Dinosaur Zoo, which has been transferred to Greenwich from the West End, and the Big Workshop Day which will be run by Greenwich and Lewisham Young People’s Theatre on Saturday, April 13.
“The real focus of the festival is on the Easter holidays,” said James. “The Big Workshop Day is free and full of fantastic activities for children aged two to 19 and this year, weather permitting, a lot of it will take place outdoors.”
In the Greenwich Theatre cafe there will be a pop-up studio for shows for younger children who might feel a bit intimidated by the whole auditorium.
“It’s been fascinating to see the audience grow over the years. There is a demand for this kind of programming and we’re always complimented on our low ticket prices. It’s also been interesting to see how much the wider industry has looked to this festival for inspiration.
“Venues from across the country have sent representatives to see what we’re up to and to book shows, and last year we joined a national consortium to create a set of standards for family arts. Earlier this month I spoke at a national conference on family theatre, so we’re building an important national profile in this area.”
Part of the idea of the children’s festival is to win young hearts and souls for the theatre.
“My ambition is for teenagers wondering what to do on a Saturday evening is to think as readily about what’s on at the theatre as they do what’s on at the cinema. A children’s audience is the most honest. You know within 10 minutes whether they like a show or not. If they love a show you know you have transported them to somewhere magical.”
The Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival is taking place between April 1 and April 19.
For more information, call 020 8858 7755 or visit www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk