Tony Reekie, artistic director of the Imaginate Festival, shares his passion for children's theatre
Q) What do you look for in a children's show?
First, I'm looking for something that catches my eye. If it's not going to work for me, then it's difficult for me to buy it on behalf of anybody else. I'm always looking for something that achieves its objective, whether it's trying to be entertaining, to tell a good story, to be sad or funny.
From that point, I ask, "Does it connect with the audience?" But it's got to be broader than just connecting with the children. There are very few, if any, performances where there are only children in the audience. So pieces have to be universal. They should be working for the adults as well; if they're working in a different way, that's fine, but they have to be working across the board.
Q) What process do you go through before you book a show into the Imaginate Festival?
If at all possible, I try and see a show a couple of times. If you revisit a show, sometimes you think, "Ah, well, I've seen more things in it now," or, "Actually, there's a lot less to it than I thought there was the first time round." Like any piece of art, children's theatre does sometimes need that second look.
Q) Do you think theatre for children has the edge over theatre for adults?
Yes. Where it has the edge is that it makes theatremakers think about the way they communicate with an audience. As adults, we take it as read that we will be understood by each other and theatre for adults works on that kind of basis. Sometimes, that's absolutely fine, but sometimes it leads to people not using everything theatre has to offer to convey a story. With children's theatre, when it's good, people have thought that stuff through really carefully. At it's best, it becomes like dance: there's nothing in there that doesn't have a meaning, nothing that is superfluous.
Q) You always programme a mix of Scottish and international productions. What do you think we can learn from seeing foreign work and what is Scotland offering in return?
Our theatre in Scotland is where it is because of the impact of foreign work. We had the chance all that time ago [in the early 1990s] either to look south to England and the theatre-in-education pedagogic approach or to look to our festival where we had really quite strange, unusual and extraordinary work.
It was the ability not only to see that work but to get our artists out to other parts of the world and to see themselves as international artists that had a huge impact on what we do.
Today, we have people from Scotland bringing their own skills to the table. It’s not the case that we copy the Dutch, the Flemish or the Danish; we have our Scottish tradition of storytelling coupled with people telling those stories in a really interesting way.
Q) What makes the Imaginate Festival special?
It's the city, it's the venues and it's the fabulous team that I work with. We have a festival that's the right size, we have the right balance in the programme and, given that we get so many people coming from so far across the world just to be part of our festival and they say it's the one that you have to come to, then I think we have one of the most special children's festivals in the world.