Play Fund awards inspirational artists in support of new work for early years

14 July 2021

Four innovative and inspirational ideas for new pieces of work for Scotland’s youngest children have received funding from Starcatchers for exploration and development, and sees several artists supported through the scheme. The Play Fund offers financial support alongside a bespoke programme of training and development opportunities and will be the starting point for an ongoing relationship between the artists and Starcatchers. 

Starcatchers launched their new Play Fund in April this year as part of their 15th birthday commitment to highlight the actions the company is taking to advocate for Scotland’s youngest children. The #15Actions campaign releases these pledges throughout the year leading to October when the arts and early years organisation will celebrate their 15th birthday. 

As Starcatchers looks to its future, one of the organisation’s under-pinning actions for change is a commitment to reach out and connect with artists and communities who face exclusions and barriers to access and who are currently under-represented in the sector and Starcatchers’ work.  

Rhona Matheson, Starcatchers’ Chief Executive said, “We are very excited to make new connections through the Play Fund, and to support work that celebrates diversity, which is vital when creating work for the youngest children. Starcatchers is dedicated to amplifying the voices of the youngest pre- and non-verbal children, and we are committed to ensuring that a diversity of lived experience is a part of the work we produce and support. We are delighted to support this group of exceptional artists and performers as they begin exploring four incredible new concepts and pieces for audiences from birth to 5, and their grown-ups. The scheme addresses the importance of live, artistic experiences for this audience, as we move towards a future of in-person performance.”  

The Play Fund scheme is part of Starcatchers’ artist development programme, Playspace, and seeks to provide opportunities for freelance artists specifically to develop work for early years audiences. It is an opportunity for the freelance artist community to find time and space to develop their own practice or explore the seed of an idea; these crucial points of development and creation that have been in short supply for the artistic community in the previous challenging months.  

Theatre-maker Kirsty Pennycook, and performer, Brooklyn Melvin, will spend a week in rehearsal and development creating movement based around the beautifully illustrated book, The Song of the Tree. They will explore how an early years audience might follow the story visually, and test ideas for babies without spoken language, using Brooklyn’s skilled use of Visual Vernacular British Sign Language, a form of physical theatre performed by deaf artists. 

Judith Williams, Susan Applebee, and Rory Clark will begin research into a piece called ‘here & now’ that supports families to deeply listen to themselves, each other and the world. Judith Williams, Artistic Director of The Letter J said, “The parasympathetic systems of young babes and their caregivers are intertwined – when we slow our breath and heartbeat our babes’ systems also settle.” The piece is described as a “prayer to the present” with improvised music, and a sound installation along a forest trail. 

Playing Together, is a new Dance show created by Andre Anderson, an arts  facilitator, theatre-maker and performer  based in Dumfries, Scotland. Dance, play, and adventures inform his work, and his piece is for families and careers and centres on the power of outdoor play, hoping to inspire  others to take to the great outdoors and make adventures  and memories of their own. The piece uses international play, an original score and movement to drive the message of the importance of recreational  activities outside. Andre said, “I have seen first-hand what young children can do and can’t wait to unlock more of their potential  through creative play and can’t wait to see the result of this newly devised show.”  

Originally from Hong Kong, Cynthia WS Cheung is an arts practitioner, performance maker and stage manager based in Edinburgh. Festival Adventure is a project exploring the different festival traditions through wraparound activities and performance. It aims to provide a space for us and the young audience to experience multiculturalism and celebrate uniqueness. Working with collaborators with diverse backgrounds, Festival Adventure includes activities that involve multisensory creative play for ages 2-5 to explore different festival traditions and stories. Cynthia said, “Like the adult, children should have the opportunity to explore the world, enjoy different festivals, experience multiculturalism and celebrate the beauty of diversity.” 

The Play Fund will have another round of funding in October 2021. Keep an eye on our opportunities page for more information.