Thinking Creatively by Guest Blogger Rhona Matheson
I’m delighted that Tracy has invited me to take over her blog this week. My name is Rhona Matheson and I am Director of an organisation called Starcatchers. Starcatchers is an arts organisation which develops and presents performances and creative experiences for babies and toddlers in Scotland. Our vision is driven by a desire to inspire our youngest children and the adults who care for them through high quality, innovative experiences. We have worked in a number of different communities with a range of artists since 2006 and engaged with thousands of babies, toddlers, their parents, carers and educators in the process.
When we first began as a pilot project in Muirhouse in Edinburgh, people thought we were crazy, that very young children wouldn’t be able to sit still for long enough to engage with performances and what need was there for this type of experience anyway?
From an audience perspective it was clear, almost immediately that very young children could engage with performance – after all, performance is just an extension of play and what we do is play in a different way. It was the adults in the room, including those of us working on the project, who were amazed that babies from as young as 5 months old could sit still and engage with a live experience taking place in front of them.
Since our first production, Little Light, in February 2007, we have presented a wide range of performance experiences and workshops - from traditional theatre shows where the audience sits and watches, to performance workshops where the children can interact and get involved with the action or engage in play, to visual art installations, we have even had a performance taking place in a swimming pool! All of these experiences have a place in the creative early years landscape and it has been fantastic to see other artists and companies engage with this audience and make their own work for early years.
In parallel with the development of our work, there has been a shift in perceptions of theatre for the very young with a number of artists and theatre companies beginning to explore making work for this age group. Whilst there are still people who are uncertain about the relevance of this work, increasingly we are making connections with other sectors and professionals engaging with early years in Scotland including education, health and social work. These professionals can see how the types of experiences presented by Starcatchers and the artists we work with can support early development and sit alongside reading, music and other activities that parents and nurseries are participating in.
The most satisfying part of my job is to sit with an audience of very young children and watch how they respond and interact with the experience presented to them. The natural curiosity that children have combined with their need to connect to those around them, make very young children a very natural audience. Their response is immediate which is both challenging and inspiring for artists and their response to performances draws their parents and carers in to the experience, making it something that they have shared together.
It is this response as well as the positivity of the parents and carers which spur me on to keep moving Starcatchers forward. Children of all ages have a right to access arts and culture – the arts aren’t an optional extra but form a fundamental part of all of us as human beings. By stimulating play through creativity and the arts we are supporting very young children to explore the world around them.
For more information about Starcatchers log on to www.starcatchers.org.uk