Photo Credit – Ryan Harston


Friday 16 March saw the first Big Imaginations Symposium taking place at Z-arts. With artists interventions, passionate discussions, and a summary of the past 5 years, this was a day of celebrating bringing brilliant children’s theatre to the North!


A Q&A with Chair Kate Cross, Liz O’Neill (Z-arts CEO & Artistic Director and Chair of Big Imaginations) and Zoe Pickering (Z-arts Children’s Theatre Programmer and Big Imaginations Manager) started the day. Highlighting that at the heart of Big Imaginations is quality and accessibility of children’s theatre, Liz discussed how the combined efforts of every venue and artist has created a warm, encouraging network.


Freelance director Benji Reid and Artistic Director of Mashi Theatre Trina Haldar shared their experiences of working with and creating art for Big Imaginations. Benji described how creating a theatre piece for children wasn’t his usual direction, but that it allowed him to take a well-known story and make it authentic to his experience and to the lifestyles of the families who were coming to watch the piece. Trina shared some beautiful audience feedback from Tales of Birbal and shared her thoughts on Big Imaginations, including that it is “a whole network of people changing the landscape so children can enjoy theatre”.  URBAN Conceptz Ryan Harston shared a spoken word performance which explored the idea of audience development in an innovative and beautiful way.


The Symposium also called upon attendees to take part, involving them in long-table discussions about diversity and inclusion, where one member explained that “inclusivity is our everyday”. There were also smaller round-table discussions where each group talked about the importance of audience development and the full experience of our audiences.


At the centre of all of this excitement, Anna Franks (Anna Franks Consultancy), who has worked on the Big Imaginations evaluation, summed up the successes of the network. She detailed that over 5 years and with 15 member organisations, 130,476 people had engaged in Big Imaginations activities. 170 shows had been programmed, 2 festivals had taken place, and there had been 3 commissions – one of which, Sponge, is now on its first international tour.


Then the fantastic Ruthie Boycott-Garnett then summarised the day’s proceedings in the form of a story, inviting delegates to reflect on the exciting work of the day and the magical potential of the future of children’s theatre in the North of England.


The Symposium signified the end of an exciting five years for both Big Imaginations and the children’s theatre sector as a whole. Uniting members of the sector from across the country, the day bubbled with positivity and forward thinking. Watch this space, because the next phase of Big Imaginations will be bigger, better and even more brilliant.


Keep the conversation going!