THOUSANDS of children across the region will be experiencing the magic of theatre as the 25th TakeOff Festival begins this weekend.
Hundreds of delegates from Britain and overseas will also attend England’s leading annual celebration of theatre for children and young people.
Ironically for a festival called TakeOff, it might have passed under the radar for grown-ups without young children to entertain.
But a 25th anniversary is a significant landmark and the potential of the festival to become a more important event has been acknowledged by Arts Council England which has pledged financial support for three years.
The festival, backed enthusiastically by Durham County Council, is masterminded by Darlington-based Theatre Hullabaloo, the regional specialist in children’s theatre which recently joined the Arts Council’s National Portfolio of regularly-funded organisations.
The TakeOff Festival runs from Saturday until November 16 with performances by 14 theatre companies from across Europe at venues in Stockton, Washington, Darlington, Middlesbrough, Chester-le-Street, Hartlepool, Stanhope and Ingleton in the Yorkshire Dales.
The delights on offer include Theatre Hullabaloo’s production of The Elves and the Shoemakers; Grimm Tales, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s special take on the work of the Brothers Grimm, by Welsh company Theatre Iolo; Mise – The Story of a Girl, a show featuring puppetry by Irish company Branar; and The Big Jump by Belgian company Theatre de la Guimbarde.
Different productions are aimed at different age groups, the aim being to entertain family audiences and stretch the imagination of young theatre-goers from toddlers to teens.
Not all the action will take place indoors. This weekend there will be free family events in Durham when a giant storytelling whale will be beached outside the Gala Theatre and two friendly polar bears will roam the city streets looking for people to befriend.
The business end of the festival, which is to be based in Durham for three years, takes place next Wednesday to Friday at four city venues including the Gala Theatre.
There some 200 delegates from as far afield as Canada and Japan will join young audiences at some of the shows and hear a keynote speech by psychologist Dr Suzanne Zeedyk of Dundee University, who will talk about the importance of the first three years of a child’s life.
Miranda Thain, creative producer of the TakeOff Festival and Theatre Hullabaloo, said the closure of Darlington Arts Centre had presented festival organisers with a choice, either to keep the festival going in a small, localised way or to roll it out across the whole region and establish it as a major event.
Miranda recalls that she said: “Let’s just do it.”
Now she says: “This is the first big festival we’ve done and we’re really hoping that in three years’ time it will have established the North East as a real hotspot for children’s and young people’s theatre.”
A regional consortium of venues interested in supporting children’s theatre includes Arc, Stockton; Arts Centre Washington; Darlington Civic Theatre, Gala Theatre, Durham; Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre; Lamplight Arts Centre, Stanley; and Middlesbrough Town Hall Theatre.
With the silver anniversary TakeOff Festival about to start, you could argue the ambition of Miranda and her team has already been achieved. Visit www.takeofffestival.org.uk