Get Creative Family Arts Festival at Z-arts: A family adventure in Manchester

Polly Checkland Harding

Free events, world-class performances and hands-on activities – all part of the Get Creative Family Arts Festival at Z-arts and across the city, in partnership with the BBC.

Only in its third year, the Family Arts Festival has already had over one million family members participating nationally – which might have something to do with the range of free events, world-class performances and hands-on activities, all exclusively geared towards families, that come as part of the programme. This year, it’s been boosted to 24 days (9 Oct – 1 Nov), having joined forces with BBC Arts Get Creative (hence the slightly extended title); Z-arts is coordinating the line-up in Manchester, with the aim of developing the variety of arts events and activities available to families. The result? Four critically-acclaimed performances at Z-arts itself, from award-winning theatre companies, plus events in partner venues across the city.

A puppet girl on the bus

First up at Z-arts is Flyaway Katie (10 Oct, 11am & 2.30pm, ages 2-7 years), presented by Long Nose Puppets and Manchester Literature Festival. Story-telling, puppetry and music by Tom Gray of the Mercury Prize-winning band Gomez combine to bring Katie to life; a girl who, feeling grey and lonely, is drawn to a colourful picture of birds on her wall. Hoping to be able to talk to them, she transforms herself with the help of a green hat, yellow tights, and some blue paint – and crosses over into their world. The play is based on the popular children’s book of the same title by Polly Dunbar, written while the author was exploring the Australian rainforest. Surrounded by beautiful birds, but no one to talk to, Dunbar began writing about the power to make oneself happier – and the stage version sounds magical.

people hold up small green leaves

Next up is Tree (17 Oct, 11am & 2.30pm, ages 3-7 years) by the award-winning South African company Magnet Theatre. A cast of four uses physical theatre, poetic language and song to tell the story of a hungry child who plants a peach tree. As the tree grows, they tell its stories and secrets, with the stage becoming ‘like an illustrated children’s book’, according to the write-up. A lesson in the four seasons, from an internationally touring company.

Free events, world-class performances and hands-on activities for families

Bear & Butterfly (28 Oct, 11am & 2.30pm, ages 4-7 years) by Theatre Hullabaloo and Theatre By the Lake also has storytelling at its heart: it follows the unlikely tale of a bear and caterpillar, who become best friends. Big, fierce and older, bear has many stories to tell – about catching fish, raising cubs and other adventures. But when his friend transforms into a butterfly, soaring high above the trees, the narrative balance shifts, with poignant results. Told through puppetry and live music, Bear & Butterfly finds truth in an evolving friendship.

Photo of screens on a stage

Perhaps the most madcap production on the programme is The Possible Impossible House (31 Oct, 2.30pm, ages 6+) from the critically-acclaimed Forced Entertainment. With over 30 years of making theatre for adults under their belt, Forced Entertainment offer a sophisticated – but brilliantly chaotic – look at children’s theatre with this show that follows a sketched girl coming to life from the pages of an algebra book, and taking her audience on a night-time tour of forgotten corridors, a ballroom and a cupboard beneath the stairs. Featuring a (friendly) philosophical spider, talking mouse and dancing soldiers, as well as ‘home-made visual magic’ and comic sound effects, The Possible Impossible House ‘works wonders with cardboard’ according to the Guardian.

A baby with bee print in the background

Last but not least at Z-arts is 16 Singers (1 Nov, 10.30am, 12pm & 2.30pm, ages 0-18 months), for the really little people. Presented by The Egg and Katherine Morley, this show uses breath, rhythm and song, as well as movement, dance and an intricate, mobile set to captivate children’s attention. Elsewhere, however, you have a relaxed concert and music workshops at the Bridgewater Hall, a comic art workshop from cartoonist Oliver East (the man behind the cartoon tale of the Maharaja elephant) at Manchester Museum, the spooky, barber shop play of ghost tales The Chair in the Royal Exchange’s Studio, as well as Oldham Coliseum’s version of Educating Rita, a play about class and culture gaps. It’s a diverse, brilliantly-conceived programme that works hard not to talk down to families – so get booking before the tickets, like Flyaway Katie, disappear…

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