Celebrating Sixteen Years of Big School at the Belgrade Theatre

Posted on 18 June 2014

The Belgrade Theatre’s dedicated Community & Education Company will mark their 16th successful year of delivering their pioneering transitions project, Big School, to schools across Coventry and the wider Midlands in 2014.

Delivered in partnership with the local education authority, the Big School project has been touring local primary schools in Coventry since 1998. This year throughout the month of June, over 1,800 pupils from 38 different primary schools across the region will have the opportunity to participate in the interactive project called Becoming Me, which was created by the award-winning children’s playwright Marielle van Sauers, the Belgrade’s Associate Director, Justine Themen; and dramaturg Ola Animashawun.

The characters in Becoming Me are played by professional actors Shereena Glean, Kim Hackleman and local actor Jon Morris, who first began acting as a member of the Belgrade Youth Theatre.

Big School is a Theatre In Education project run by the Belgrade Theatre’s pioneering Community & Education Company. Currently run on an annual basis, the Big School project was originally commissioned with the aim of helping Year Six pupils deal with the transition from primary to secondary school, exploring the challenges children face when moving from being the oldest year group in a school to being the youngest in a large, unfamiliar space, with new teachers, new friends, new subjects and a daunting new building to navigate.

The ground-breaking TiE movement was pioneered by the Belgrade in 1965 as a way to use theatre and drama to create a range of learning opportunities for young people. Actor-teachers from the Belgrade would tour local schools where they would perform short pieces of theatre and lead workshops that allowed students to explore important issues and ideas in active and creative ways.

Looking ahead to the 50th Anniversary of TiE and to the future of Big School, Justine Themen, Associate Director said: ‘In an age where government education funds are being given directly to individual schools and taking into account the increased marginalization of drama within the national curriculum, the future of Big School is by no means a certain one. Because of the way in which the allocation of funding to schools has changed, supporting a dedicated TIE project of this scale is becoming increasingly difficult’.

The transition from primary to secondary school can be a tremendously challenging time in the life of a child and if it doesn’t go well, can have a lasting impact of a child’s achievement and well-being’ Justine added. ‘Work on transition is often about telling children what they need to expect when they make the step up to secondary school. Projects such as Big School are about giving young people the opportunity to explore the challenges that they many encounter and come up with their own ideas as to how to meet those challenges. Grown-ups can sometimes forget that children are dealing with change all the time and are often very resourceful. We need to support children to access the resourcefulness within themselves at this important time in their lives’.

‘The Big School project is an integral part of our Community & Education programme and we are very proud to have helped many thousands of local young children with the difficult transition especially as we near the 50th anniversary of TiE’.

The Belgrade Theatre will celebrate the 50th anniversary of establishing its dedicated Theatre in Education Company in 2015 with a year-long festival of events to celebrate and promote theatre for young people. As part of the festival, the theatre will be highlighting the crucial role that drama plays in supporting the development of children and young people with a series of events including a National Festival of innovative theatre work both by and for young people & a conference addressing the importance that engagement in theatre and education can play. These events will be held in the theatre and in schools and venues throughout the area.

The Belgrade Community & Education Company is keen to hear from people who would like to share personal experiences of Belgrade TiE or any engagement with the theatre as a child or young person from those early days. Organisations or individuals wishing to support the work of the Community & Education Company should contact David Jane (Development Manager) on

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