After two challenging years, the Big Imaginations network finally reunited in-person at Z-arts! Although we stayed connected throughout the pandemic digitally, nothing compares to the buzz of live conversations and sparking ideas of one another in real life. Together we are looking ahead at what Big Imaginations is going to be over the next 5 years. Using artist provocations as a starting point to frame those conversation we are amazed at how far the network has come.       

Looking Back

Despite restrictions, we have achieved so much during the last two years!

We delivered half term adventures to people’s homes in 2021 by creating an online festival of theatre. Auntie Ivory kicked things off with DRAG QUEEN STORYTIME, which aims to inspire a love of reading, while teaching deeper lessons on diversity, self-love and an appreciation of others. LAND OF NOD was a sensory storytelling show which explored the magic of bedtime and the beauty of children’s imagination. Big Imaginations commission CURIOUS INVESTIGATORS was a delightful live Zoom adventure, where children and their families joined Toni the Explorer online to help her find a way to return an egg to its nest using recycled materials from home. WHEN WE STARTED SINGING was an uplifting short film about an old man and his tortoise, featuring BSL, storytelling and a song. DUST was the story of an unlikely friendship, and Dommy B’s WHEN TROLLS TRY TO EAT YOUR GOLDFISH invited children to save the day after a grotesque gang of greedy trolls steal all the village’s pets. The festival also celebrated International Mother Tongue Day with a full day of songs, crafts, music, and videos from multilingual groups, streamed from Manchester Libraries.

Over the summer, Big Imaginations brought high-quality theatre to children and families across the North West and Yorkshire. The network came together to programme fantastic shows and activities, which were supported by Arts Council England and The Granada Foundation. Burnley Youth Theatre hosted The Fabularium with their fantastic piece of outdoor theatre, THE HARE AND THE MOON. Meanwhile, Wonder Arts wowed families with their IN THE STREET festival, an opportunity to provide families in St Helens with a free festival that all could enjoy. Families also returned to JUST SO FESTIVAL, for a three-day imaginative outdoor adventure like no other, and Z-arts had a SUMMER OF PLAY, which included a DISCO PARTY and their local community festival, HULME IS WHERE THE ART IS. Bringing the magic of theatre outdoors was particularly important during these difficult times. Our outdoor events allowed us to reach new audiences as well as engaging our regular families in a fun but safe environment.

We continued to support artists throughout the pandemic as well. We offered immediate support by inviting artists to attend free, private 30-minute advisory sessions where they could talk through their questions and ideas. We continued our Big Imaginations Artist Imagination Fund, which is designed to contribute towards Artist Development, R&D or anything that supports an artist or theatre company with their practice. This year we have awarded five artists. We are supporting BLAH BLAH BLAH with their new small-scale touring theatre show which explores migration, food poverty and climate change, DORA & JANE with their interactive theatre & circus show, OLIVER SYKES with his adaptation of a short story he has written about family, grief, and empowerment, RIA MEERA MUNSHI with her magical children’s theatre play which celebrates the uniqueness of Indian culture, and AUDREY ALBERT & RORY AARON with a new piece of theatre that will look at ocean plastic and pollution through poetic storytelling and shadow puppetry. We are excited to work with these artists to support the development of their projects!

Looking Ahead

At our away day last week, we started to think about the next 4 years of Big Imaginations. We particularly want to focus on programming, artist development and marketing & audience development.

We have an exciting programme for 2022. See what is happening across the network in March here.