Hopper Background Information for Artists

Hopper is a two-year pilot project that will create opportunities for young children to experience great art and culture in Early Years (EY) settings, such as pre-schools, nurseries, Foundation Stage in schools, libraries, village halls, school halls and Children’s Centres. It will also support six theatre companies in developing or adapting high quality and relevant performances for under 5s and increase access for hard to reach and marginalised children.

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said:

“We’re really pleased to be supporting Hopper as we believe that all children and young people, whoever they are and wherever they live, should have the opportunity to experience the richness of arts and culture.

'The project looks set to develop a local, sustainable touring infrastructure for Early Years work and build strong and productive relationships.”

The partners are Take Art, Surrey Arts, China Plate, the egg in Bristol, with three key local theatres: The Brewhouse in Taunton; Bridgwater Arts Centre and Camberley and with many EY venues and settings. The shows will run throughout 2018.
In more detail:

The project will support the presentation of 70, high quality shows into (primarily) EY settings, widening access for an underserved audience whilst broadening the range of venues presenting EY work. Building capacity within EY settings and developing strong relationships across the settings and with nearby ‘hub’ theatres will create a new EY promoting network. A two-phase development programme will increase the number of artists making work for and touring work to EY settings. EY settings and audiences are central to the project and they will choose their shows and influence the creation of new touring work.

EY work generally tours to arts centres/theatres and barriers to under 5s’ attendance such as low income, geographic proximity to venues in rural areas and preconceptions about the arts are compounded by a lack of investment by the arts sector. Hopper will target local authorities with low levels of arts participation and specific geographic areas with identified disadvantaged families with small children and deliver amazing arts experiences in local EY settings. Evaluation will assess the effectiveness of this new approach and inform a sustainable operational model that could be replicated in other parts of the country.

Hopper involves two ‘geographic’ partners – Surrey Arts (Surrey) and Take Art (Somerset) collaborating with an experienced producing partner, China Plate. Involving theatre and arts centre venues in each area will extend the project’s reach and support sustainability by building a broad touring base with established arts venues.

Hopper aims to:

1. Develop a local, sustainable touring infrastructure, building on the successful national rural touring model, bringing high quality, professional arts performances to under fives and their families.

We will:    

2. Stimulate artistic ambition and increase the supply of professional work presented in non-arts spaces serving under fives:

We have already sourced source existing work nationally that can already tour to non dedicated arts settings via our EY network colleagues.

We will:

3. Raise the profile of the EY to the performing arts sector through this ambitious project.

We will:

We will meet these aims through four activity strands:


Our approach to selecting shows for a curated ‘menu’ will be based on:

a) Existing work that is suitable for EY touring –  four pre-selected companies.

b) Existing work that is suitable for EY settings with some adaptations, thereby improving knowledge and skills of artists making work for EY. We will extend the reach of three artists/companies making EY work who haven’t toured to EY settings previously, but who have existing work which is suitable for those settings with some adaptation. We are seeking work that satisfies the criteria outlined in the FAQs document and that is artistically ambitious and forward looking; accessible to a wide audience; playful and unusual.

Performances will be financially underwritten, underpinned by dedicated project manager time in both counties to support EY and theatre staff booking and promoting shows and augmented by marketing support.

Over three seasons there will be 58 shows in EY settings and a further 12 shows in ‘hub’ theatre venues. The menu will be circulated to settings in July 2017 for the touring period February 2018 to March 2018. The following two seasons in the summer and autumn will follow suit. Preparation for the project means that we are confident there will be interest in taking shows from the outset. We hope to build audiences as the seasons follow each other, as we reflect and learn from the earlier promotions and feed the learning back into subsequent promotions.


From February 2017 China Plate will manage a two-stream national call-out and selection process to identify artists/companies for both a ‘Lab’ and ‘Darkroom’ programme.

Three artists/companies chosen for each of the two parts of the programme (making six artists/companies altogether) will attend a Practical Introduction to EY Touring (the Lab), with the three companies with ideas for new shows attending the subsequent Darkroom residency – see below. By introducing selected artists into EY settings (through the Lab and Darkroom), we aim to generate work deeply rooted in the specific experience of those locations – crucial as we aim to work with artists who are new to this audience context.

China Plate brings specific experience in terms of artist development and commissioning. Through projects like Rural Touring Dance Initiative, The Darkroom, The Optimists and the First Bite and Bite Size Festivals they have designed a range of bespoke development opportunities for theatre artists at every stage of their careers. They regularly commission work with a wide range of partners and have extensive touring networks across the UK.

Specifically China Plate will work with the partners to:

All artists/companies will be paid for the time they spend in the Lab and the Darkroom.


The partners will demonstrate how the project will meet EY practitioner goals in supporting wider Early Learning objectives, helping to build demand longer term for this work. Bringing the work into the settings makes the work accessible; the logistics of working whole settings as audiences increases the potential for all children and their parents and carers to experience high quality work. In schools, this focus will be retained by working through the EY Foundation Stage.

We will build relationships between settings and the ‘hub’ theatre venues through the CPD programme, the Lab and Darkroom processes.


Target Audiences

We aim to reach under 5s and their families, many living in disadvantaged areas; we also wish to galvanise more artists to consider making work to go into EY settings. We will achieve this by:

1. Reaching Early Years Audiences

2. Companies & Artists

This project focuses on EY touring work that can be taken into settings and spaces attended by the EY on a regular basis (rather than taking the audience to the art). For this reason working with staff in EY settings is essential in succeeding since, as with the rural touring model, without the support of these promoters we cannot reach the target audience.

The EY settings will need support through the process of learning to promote and host EY shows; a number of face to face visits will be needed to give guidance on good practice. The rural touring model has significant transferrable learning that can benefit this process. CPD and Go & See grants to EY promoters will supplement this activity.


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