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08 08 2019 Eif Hard To Be Soft Gaelle Beri 3 Photo: Gaelle Beri

Our work with Young People

Year-round and during August, we work with a number of young people on projects that range from explorations of the artforms and international artists we present on stage through to opportunities to participate and perform at the International Festival, connecting at all times to relevant curriculum learnings.

Sugar Army

Young dancers from Edinburgh take to the International Festival stage…

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Oona Doherty’s acclaimed work Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer was presented as part of the 2019 International Festival. The performance is split in four chapters, with chapter two entitled ‘Sugar Army’ and featuring a troupe of young female dancers performing a warrior-like hip hop routine representing the harsh yet made-up girls Doherty faced as a teenager growing up in Belfast.

As is Doherty’s practise, an Edinburgh Sugar Army was created, with the International Festival recruiting Ashley Jack and her House of Jack troupe to assemble a group of 13 young female dancers to perform as part of Hard to be Soft at the Lyceum Theatre. The dancers, who ranged from 14-to-17-years-old and came from all across Edinburgh, were:

Evie Craig
Collette Dance
Aaliyah El-Salahi
Silvie Furneaux
Amy Lindsay
Cleo Jasmine Luna
Kerry Monaghan
Daisy Morcom
Mariana Moreira
Trisha Muco
Alexandra Myers
Sienna Thomson
Leigh Vallance

Rehearsals for the performance took place over a week in early August at House of Jack’s dance studio in Leith, with Doherty in residence working intensively with the dancers to not only teach them the choreography but also provide context to the movements and themes behind the work so the performers could connect the movement to their own experiences.

After a dress rehearsal, the Sugar Army took to the Lyceum Theatre for four performances of Hard to be Soft performing to a truly professional standard, all the time treated as full members of the company. The Sugar Army were also joined by the Gate Boys, four male performers from Lyceum Youth Theatre whose role in the production was the movement of the large gates that make up the set, with timing being a key requirement to maintain the flow and atmosphere of the show. The Gate Boys were Jasper Harris, Max Lauder, Cormac MacLachlan and Stuart Manson.

It is a fantastic opportunity to be able to work with an artist like Oona Doherty who places the engagement and involvement of local young people as an integral part of their performance. Doherty has created Sugar Armies in cities across Europe, and the opportunity for the Edinburgh young people has been inspirational, giving them the very special opportunity to perform on the stage of the International Festival.

Participation in the creative arts is a key objective of the Learning and Engagement department, and this year’s Sugar Army follows on from 2018’s Kadamati mass dance performance and Aberdeen Standard Investments Opening Event: Five Telegrams, and provides a base for future participation opportunities.

Opera Project 2019

The 2019 International Festival Opera Project explored Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky’s best-loved opera featuring some of his most inspired and captivating music.

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The workshop beforehand is highly entertaining - a superb introduction to the whole genre as well as the specific work in the EIF programme. It is highly accessible to a wide variety of pupils.” Previous Teacher Attendee

The International Festival’s Opera Project is an annual initiative that seeks to make the artform of opera accessible to young people, breaking down barriers and perceptions. Using an opera from the forthcoming International Festival programme, we present an English-language, potted version to Secondary school pupils, introducing them to the specific work as well as to specific song and singing techniques being used by the composer.

In June, the International Festival's special opera cast visited 12 schools to present a distilled version of Eugene Onegin with live piano accompaniment, telling the story of this captivating opera in an engaging yet accessible way for audiences of all levels.

Schools were then invited in August to attend the opening night of Komische Oper Berlin's spectacular production of Eugene Onegin at the Festival Theatre, offering pupils the chance to witness a full-scale opera within their very own city. All tickets to the full performance were complimentary.

A big thank you to soprano Emma Morwood who once again produced the excellent potted opera. She was joined by tenor Tyler Clarke, baritone Douglas Nairne, mezzo soprano Laura Smith alongside pianist Andrew Brown and project assistant Lucy Wilson.

Wee Cherub Winner Olivia Campanile Holyrood Rc High School Photo Gordon Terris 3 Winner of this year's Wee Cherub Award, Olivia Campanile | Photo: Gordon Terris

Herald Young Critics

Our Advanced Higher critical writing project in partnership with The Herald newspaper. 

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Running for over 15 years, Herald Young Critics is the International Festival critical writing project. It explores bringing young people from across Edinburgh to see performances they may not normally engage with and seeks their critical responses.

Partnering with The Herald newspaper, all responses are published online, with one review from each school selected to be printed in The Herald. One of these printed responses is then chosen as an overall winner and receives the Wee Cherub Award as part of the Herald Angels awards. This year’s Wee Cherub Award winner was Olivia Campanile from Holy Rood RC High School for her review of Night Walk for Edinburgh

In June, our collective of arts critics from The Herald visited schools to present a workshop about arts criticism, their careers and experience as critics, and the specific performance the young people would be attending. Pupils were then invited to their selected performance during the International Festival in August and had until the next day to produce their critical response. 

Performances for Herald Young Critics are chosen from across the programme including classical music, theatre, dance, opera and contemporary music, and all elements are FREE of charge. This year’s participating schools and the shows they are attending were:

Boroughmuir High SchoolHard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer
Broughton High SchoolShanghai Symphony Orchestra
Craigroyston Community High SchoolRoots
Holy Rood RC High SchoolNight Walk for Edinburgh
Leith AcademyRite of Spring
Portobello High School ­– Sharon Van Etten
The Royal High SchoolOedipus
Tynecastle High SchoolEugene Onegin

You can read all the pupils’ critical responses over on our Herald Young Critics blog.

You can find the results of the 2018 Herald Young Critics here.

Red Dust Road Drama Project

Secondary schools from across Edinburgh attended the world premiere of National Theatre of Scotland's production of Red Dust Road at the 2019 International Festival.

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The International Festival is passionate about connecting the theatre performances in our programme to the school pupils of Edinburgh, providing them direct access to new work and practitioners that will help them with their studies, connecting to the curriculum especially at Higher and Advanced Higher level.

This year we provided eight Secondary schools tickets to attending the World Premiere of the National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Red Dust Road, with over 150 pupils attending the Lyceum performances in August. This was then followed up by an in-school workshop unpacking some of the issues of the piece.

Artists Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsk and Hamshya Rajkumar presented a 2-hour session for the schools that opened up areas of the Red Dust Road text and had the pupils create some of their own interpretations of the piece whilst also examining their own journeys and the themes of the work around race and gender.

The workshop provided pupils with some alternative ways to explore Red Dust Road as they approach dissertations and exams where they have the opportunity to use the play as an example in their writing.

Today I learned to be more open to different activities that will help expand my imagination.” Participating Pupil, Gracemount High School

I had an amazing time. This workshop really helped me create a better understanding of the play and also let my creative ideas out.” Participating Pupil, Leith Academy

This was a different experience that allowed me to appreciate the play in a different way. I was able to understand different aspects of the script that I probably didn’t know.” Participating Pupil, Boroughmuir High School

Technical Theatre Workshop

An insight into what goes on backstage at Leith Theatre.

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Working closely with the International Festival’s Technical Team, and partnering with Black Light with ETC and High End Systems, and Warehouse with Adamson, the Learning and Engagement team presented a hands-on, skills-based workshop exploring the equipment used at Leith Theatre during the International Festival’s contemporary music programme.

Working over multiple stations, pupils from Currie Community High School, Trinity High School and Leith Academy got to explore the different styles of lighting available to dress stages, the science behind how technicians make certain colours in lighting, special effects and the way the sound design system works in a venue like Leith Theatre.

The Technical Theatre Workshop provided us an opportunity to connect young people to the expertise the International Festival has beyond the performances on stage and helps provide skills that can be taken back and applied to schools shows and performances, whilst encouraging the theatre technicians of the future.

Heart of Hollywood

Community engagement initiative with the pupils of Tynecastle High School.

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To connect with this year’s Aberdeen Standard Investments Opening Event: LA Phil at Tynecastle, the International Festival worked closely with a group of International Festival Ambassadors, made up of pupils and staff from Tynecastle High School, to create a community engagement project for their local neighbourhood that would inspire and excite audiences for the Opening Event.

Over eight weeks, International Festival staff workshopped with the Ambassadors to explore the themes of the LA Phil at Tynecastle event, what it takes to devise and develop ideas for events, and finally project managing their chosen event.

Then on Monday 24 June, the Ambassadors presented their Heart of Hollywood Film Night, a free event for everyone in the local community hosted in the Gorgie Suite of Tynecastle Park stadium. The event included live music, face-painting, free food for all attendees, and culminated in a film screening of the movie Sing!. The Ambassadors also encouraged attendees to make donations towards Big Hearts Community Trust if they could, giving something back to the local community.

A big thank you to everyone who helped the Ambassadors put their event on especially the team at Tynecastle Park and Big Hearts Community Trusts, as well as singer Jay Withers, face-painter Stina Sparkles, and INDY Cinema who provided the film and projection.

Leith Academy School Residency

Leith Academy Brand Launch © Ryan Buchanan 2

Find out more about our partnership with Leith Academy

Young Musician's Passport

Every August, some of the world’s greatest orchestras, soloists and conductors come to Edinburgh to perform at the International Festival. With a Young Musician’s Passport, young people can see them for free!

Previous Projects with Young People

Aberdeen Standard Investments Opening Event: Five Telegrams

Young people were at the heart of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Opening Event: Five Telegrams in 2018, a Year of Young People signature event - from co-design and planning, through to working and performing on the night of the event, young people engaged in the project at all levels.

The End of Eddy

In 2018 the International Festival presented the premiere of The End of Eddy, the latest theatre work from Stewart Laing and Pamela Carter based on the book by Édouard Louis. Working closely with the Unicorn Theatre, Edinburgh International Festival provided pupils with a comprehensive exploration of the themes of the play. Teachers were presented with a bespoke teaching resource, and Secondary school pupils attended a performance of the show at the Festival Theatre Studio, and then received in-school workshops by artists from The Unicorn. 


Drawing on the themes of identity, migration, connection and hope, Kadamati was a breath-taking 6 minutes of mass movement performed by 300 young people from across Scotland. The participants took part in workshops with our Dance Artists to learn the choreography by Akram Khan before coming together to perform in front of over 2000 audience members, including attendees of the Edinburgh International Cultural Summit, in the courtyard of the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Thanks to dance artists Jade Adamson, Vassia Bouchagiar, Ashley Jack, Emma Jayne Park, Carolina Ravaioli, Emma Smith, Pirita Tuisku, Lucy May Wilson, and Katie Miller for teaching the choreography to and leading each participating group.

The groups participating in Kadamati included:
Broughton High School Creative Electric   
Divas Dance Academy   
Fizzy Dance   
Great Feats   
House of Jack  
Ihayami Youth Collective   
Indepen-dance Young 1'z   
Larbert High School   
Leith Academy   
Macrobert Arts Centre   
Performing Arts Studio Scotland   
Shuffle Dance   
Starting Pointe Ballet   
Stellar Musical Theatre Company   
Valerie Brown School of Dance and Drama   
Waterfront Dance

Kadamati was commissioned by 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions and was sponsored by Baillie Gifford Investment Managers.

18 08 2019 Eif Quatuor Mona Gaelle Beri 33

Our work with Communities

Soul Boxes Workshop © Mihaela Bodlovic 050

Our work with Children & Families

Ane Satyre Of The Thrie Estaitis © Ryan Buchanan 29

Our work with Creative Development