A History of TiE in 10 Productions

Posted on 20 October 2015

‘The emergence of organised Theatre In Education (TiE) can be traced back to a particular place at a particular time: Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre in 1965’

The Balloon Man and The Runaway Balloons (September 1965)

The first ever TiE programme to tour Coventry in September 1965. The Balloon Man and The Runaway Balloons formed one part of a three-way pilot programme exploring the theme of ‘responsibility’ in schools. The programme, which also consisted of a primary level piece called The Secret Of The Stone and the secondary level piece, The High Girders, was delivered by original company members Gordon Vallins, Ann Lister, Jessica Hill and Dickon Reed, all of whom could act, devise, produce and teach. In The Balloon Man and his Runaway Balloons, children were confronted with the dilemma of how to save a fictional balloon-man from a storm at sea. By taking participants on an interactive journey through storytelling, the programme encouraged children to become active agents in their own learning, posing narrative dilemmas, asking questions and engaging their creativity in the process.

The Emergent Africa Game (1969)

A secondary school programme based on the interactive novel, State Of Emergency by Dennis Guerrier and Joan Richards. The action of the piece takes place in the fictional state of Lakoto and offers up a series of social and political dilemmas faced by the government and its people. At key points in the action, students were posed with a dilemma and invited to vote on possible outcomes for the emerging nation. Such was the success of the piece with teachers that it was later re-performed in both the Belgrade’s own studio space and the Victoria Theatre, Stoke On Trent.

Rare Earth (1973)

Throughout its 50 year history, TiE has been used to tackle themes of immense social, moral and political significance. By the 1970s, the Belgrade TiE Company were producing programmes which sought to tackle contemporary political and social dilemmas head on. A powerful example of this type of work is Rare Earth, a three-part programme exploring ecological responsibility, conservation and the impact of modernisation on self-sustaining communities. The first piece in the trilogy consisted of a workshop based around the provocation ‘The only good Indian is a dead Indian’. This was followed by a performance piece exploring the story of a Japanese fishing village whose water source had been poisoned by industrial waste. The final part of the trilogy involved an interactive board game in which participants learned how to allocate the earth’s resources and, in doing so, made important decisions about the future of the planet.

The Carmakers (1971) & The Price Of Coal (1975)

Throughout its history, the Belgrade TiE Company also produced a number of works which engaged specifically with the local history of the area. A notable example of this type of work is The Carmakers, a programme created for English, History and Social Studies students which explored the history of Coventry’s motor industry through the changing industrial landscapes of the 19th and 20th centuries. Another memorable production of this period which sought to engage with the contemporary political climate was The Price Of Coal, a piece of work written in response to the coal miners’ strikes of the early 70s, – several of which took place in the nearby mining town of Bedworth – which explored over 400 years of mining history in the region.

Strathnaver (1980)

The Belgrade Theatre TiE Company has played host to many a famous face over the years, from star of Downton Abbey and The Royal Family, Sue Johnston to journalist and Broadcaster Fiona Bruce. Another well-known TV personality who began her career as an actor-teacher at the Belgrade during the late 70s and early 80s was Linda Bassett, best known for her roles in The Darling Buds of May and East Is East. As an actor-teacher working as part of a company of four, Linda was responsible for devising a number of productions during this period. A notable example of this was Strathnaver, a junior school programme based around the history of the Highland Clearances which explored themes of responsibility, loyalty and ownership.
Trip To The Moon (1981)

Alongside its work with Infant, Primary and Secondary school pupils, the Belgrade TiE Company has a strong tradition of working with young people with mental and physical disabilities. From the 1970s onwards, the company set about tailoring specific programmes to the needs of special schools. As in the case of ‘Trip To The Moon’, such programmes focused at ways of creating a more multi-sensory experience for children focused around developing language and awareness and based around a more detailed approach to understanding the individual child.
Land Of Hope & The Man I Never Knew (1982)

The 1980s also saw the Belgrade TiE company expand its work to incorporate performances for adults into its existing programme. In 1982, thanks to additional funding from Arts Council England, the company was able to provide two programmes for adults linked to its infant and secondary school performances. The first of these, Land Of Hope, followed the story of three individuals of different cultural backgrounds who leave their home to seek a new life in Britain. Later the same evening, the parents of these children were invited along to the school to watch A Man I Never Knew, a programme which explored issues of racial and cultural difference through the story of four Coventry residents, each affected by rising racial tensions in the city.

Big School (1996 onwards)

Following a period of national deterioration and the eventual discontinuation of the TiE Company in 1996, 1999 saw a resurgence in TiE at the Belgrade with the appointment of the then Head of Young People’s Theatre, Matthew Pegg. Since the late 1990s, the Belgrade Theatre has run one annual TiE project, ‘Big School’ – a programme which deals with the transition from primary to secondary school. In addition, the Belgrade has delivered various individual TiE projects within the community. In 2007, the Local Authority Minority Groups Support Service commissioned the theatre to create ‘The First Time I Saw Snow’, a piece which explored the challenges faced by new communities moving into Coventry following significant increases in migrant populations in the city. In 2013/2014 alone, over 42% of Coventry and Warwickshire primary schools accessed the Theatre In Education play ‘Big School’ in partnership with the Local Education Authority, enabling a total of 1858 pupils aged 10 and 11 to benefit from the pioneering transitions project.