Friday 5 August 2011 | By Caro Moses
James Cowden: Right on the Spotlites
Every year the team from Spotlites take over Merchants’ Hall on Hanover Street, offering up a mix of theatre, comedy and other entertainment. But while the Spotlites programme is eclectic genre wise, it is perhaps the great children’s shows that this New Town venue is best known for.
This is no surprise given that outside of August the Spotlites theatre company specialises in shows for younger theatre-goers. Last August the youngest member of the ThreeWeeks team (four years old this week) checked out one of these shows with her mother, a certain ThreeWeeks co-editor who was very impressed by how focused the play was on catering to the (considerable) needs of tiny children. Which that in mind we spoke to Spotlites actor James Cowden to find out more.
CM: Tell us about the Spotlites theatre company.
JC: Spotlites has been around for about eighteen years and is dedicated to providing theatre for, with and by children and young people. Our Artistic Director, Rachel Thomson-King, founded the company, and writes and directs the various hit productions that we have put on over the years. We have brought our interactive children’s productions to the Fringe for the last five years, starting with ‘Treasure Island’ in 2006 and while we are mainly based in the South of England the rest of the year, we love spending our Augusts in Edinburgh, the atmosphere is electric!
CM: So, you’ve always had a focus on shows for children?
JC: Yes, Spotlites has always had a very strong youth ethos. We take great pride in seeing children actively engaged and using their imaginations, and becoming totally enthralled in our stories. What’s equally rewarding is seeing the parents enjoy the performances through their children. The newcomers often come in with folded arms, but by the end the parents and their child(ren) are enjoying the story together, and playing together, sometimes for the first time! We’re about families and the right to play, and hopefully, we pass that message on to the people that come and see the shows!
CM: A lot of children’s shows are aimed at a very broad age range, and often aren’t easy for toddlers to sit through. Some of your shows are specifically aimed at a very young age group – what made you decide to do shows like this?
JC: Public demand! After seeing our productions for five to twelve year olds, many parents would come up to us and said, “That was great! Do you have anything that my very small ones can come and see?” So we made our first interactive play for little uns – ‘Magic Porridge Pot’ – which was a smash hit and sold out in both 2009, at its debut, and again in 2010. This year, it’s joined by ‘The Enormous Turnip’, again aimed at 2-5year olds.
CM: What process do you go through making a show for very small children? How do you approach entertainment for such short attention spans?
JC: ‘Magic Porridge Pot’ enabled us to find our feet, and we’ve grown from there! Children are extremely clever and intuitive, capable of focusing on the tiniest details of a story! The trick is to not let them down, don’t short change them!
CM: What do you think makes a good children’s show?
JC: Something that engages the child! We’ve had many wonderful experiences when children, sometimes the shyest in the audience, will spontaneously tell Robinson Crusoe that a pathway to the healing crystal can only be obtained by following the code they have deciphered, or that the enormous turnip is simply too enormous to be heaved up! Children are always willing to suspend disbelief when they feel safe, and we are proud to say that they do it at our shows all the time!
CM: What keeps you coming back to the Edinburgh Festival?
JC: Apart from the fact that it’s the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen, the festival is almost like an addiction – once you’ve started, you can never quite stop the buzz you’ve gotten! From the moment September hits, we start to think, “Right! Now to start getting ready for next year’s Fringe”!
CM: What are the best and worst things about a Fringe run?
JC: The best thing, for us, is that no two performances are ever the same – the audience input is always different and makes for a phenomenal experience. The worst part is the strange loss of time that occurs through the run. You suddenly turn around and think, “Surely not! What date is it again?”
CM: What will you be going to see this year? Do you ever check out the children’s show competition?
JC: I’d love to see anything really; every company or person has a different take on a story which makes every show unique. It expands our horizons to see a little bit of everything and enables us to consistently grow. You can pick up inspiration from anything, in any genre!