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Kids given chance to commission theatre shows for Manchester company

Z-arts' most recent commission Sponge, from Turned on Its Head Z-arts' most recent commission Sponge, from Turned on Its Head
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A leading children’s arts organisation plans to give children as young as eight the chance to commission their own theatre shows for what is thought to be the first time in the UK.

Manchester-based Z-arts will have artists present to a panel of children, who will decide which shows they want to see made and performed.

Liz O’Neill, chief executive of Z-arts, said engaging children in this way at an early age would help increase diversity in the theatre industry.

O’Neill plans to introduce the new model next year, using a panel of kids to commission the annual show for the Big Imaginations Network, which is a group designed to bring children’s theatre to the North West.

She said: “People are starting to realise how beneficial it is to get involved in theatre at an early age. But with all the cuts to education, there is less theatre in school now, and the creative involvement and the life skills these children would learn starts to be lost.

“If we push that further, it ends up being all middle-class white people who end up working in the industry. We have got to address that at the very earliest stages and empower children to take up theatre.”

The new model follows other similar initiatives to engage young people in theatre, such as the TakeOver Festival at York’s Theatre Royal, which gives 12 to 26-year-olds the opportunity to programme events.

Z-arts, which works with young people aged eight to 13, already engages children in the creative process of developing shows.

O’Neill said: “We’ve worked with an artist before who came in with one idea for her performance, but went and did something completely different after participating in workshops with children.

“I thought: ‘Where can we take this involvement even further?’”

O’Neill, who said she had been inspired by companies in Denmark using children to commission and produce theatre, added she would be keen to work with a whole school class of up to 30 children, especially those who are not usually interested in theatre.

She said: “We would put the call out to artists, and we always have some kind of criteria of what we are looking for.

“We would then involve children in the shortlisting process, and any shortlisted applicants would have to present to a panel of children, guided by adults.

“Children would be involved in the entire process, from commissioning the shows to creating them.”

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