For theatres


  • The story

  • The experience

  • Empowering children to cocreate their stories

  • Maximising the potential of live-streamed theatre sessions

  • Closer collaboration between a theatre and local children’s bookshops

  • Fully tested and piloted with school children

  • Collaborators involved in the project

  • Acknowledgements

The story:

Deep into Earth’s next ice age, stories have become the fuel for life. Now this precious resource is disappearing. Someone is stealing the town´s stories. Deprived of their fuel the town’s fablehearths will go out, the ice will creep back in and families will perish in their beds. In a last desperate roll of the dice the town’s story shamans develop a perilous means of time travel to allow their most intrepid explorers to journey back into the past to save the town´s tales before they can disappear.

The experience:

Storyhaven is an immersive theatre and storytelling experience for children aged 8-12 years old. It centres on a table-top reading and roleplaying game for children and their families to play together over 2-4 weeks at home with two live-streamed sessions with an actor playing a character from the narrative to inspire their gameplay. The materials needed for families to participate in the experience can be delivered in digital form through email or a website, or via a boxed game element.

During their experience families participate in two interactive live-theatre sessions with an actor playing the town shaman to bring their gameplay thrillingly to life. These sessions can be delivered via Zoom to the families’ homes or via reduced-capacity performances in a theatre building.

The reading game is played on a mobile, tablet or laptop. It allows families to choose their own path through the narrative, talking decisions over together that will influence the outcome of their experience. Players design their own characters and backstories, stimulating deeply personal roleplaying that could be transformative of family relations in the stressful domestic situations of Covid quarantines and lockdowns.

Empowering children to cocreate their stories

Opportunities for children to cocreate the narrative are woven into the storyline, so that children approach them as engaged and central characters in the fictional world. Families must rewrite the town’s stories they save on their adventure, so that they can deliver them back to the present through the shaman’s time portal. The device of the adventure journal that children complete during gameplay further scaffolds children’s creation, inviting them into the making processes of their stories from the position of immersed participant, rather than as a technical talk or workshop.

This device of rescuing, rewriting and delivering stories sets up the two live-stream connections with an actor playing the character of the story shaman. Families read out the tales they have rewritten together while the shaman encourages the children to experiment with different performance techniques to increase the power of their words, stoke Storyhaven’s fablehearths, and drive back the encroaching ice. This empowers children to truly inhabit characters they themselves have chosen and designed through performance and creates a wonderful sense of collaboration with a professional theatre company as participants become members of the cast themselves, extending the creative vision into the intimacy of their homes.

The experience also incorporates episodes of the reading game for children to play on their own, which make Storyhaven a powerful boost to children’s private reading habits, as well as driving the social nature of Storyhaven’s gameplay by encouraging retelling of their lone adventures during the next episode of family play.

Structure and examples of content

The rulebook

The adventure journal pages

Episode 1 of the reading game for playing together as a family

Episode 2 of the reading game for children to play alone

Episode 3 – the first live Zoom theatre session with the town shaman

Episode 4 of the reading game for playing as a family

Episode 5 of the reading game for children to play alone

Episode 6 – the second live Zoom theatre session with the town shaman

Episode 7 of the reading game for playing as a family

Maximising the potential of live-streamed theatre sessions

Lockdown has demonstrated the potential of live-streamed theatre to reach new audiences in their homes. One of the form’s drawbacks, however, is that it struggles to replicate the essential lead up to engaging with a theatrical performance that a visit to a theatre building produces so well: the journey to the venue, entering the building, taking your seats – all the simple rituals that allow the audience the time to get excited and prepare themselves to make that deep emotional connection in the theatre. Through its innovative new narrative form Storyhaven addresses this by initiating its engagement via a reading experience with the storyline leading up to and between the episodes of live-streamed theatre, so that the family audience is already immersed in the narrative when the performance starts and able to make a more immediate and deeper connection with the actor.

Closer collaboration between a theatre and local independent bookshops

In line with its vision of blending theatre and reading engagement, Storyhaven proposes a unique collaboration between a theatre company and a network of local independent bookshops, working together to engage children more deeply with the arts.

The boxed game element allows the delivery of physical props (a pouch of story crystals, an adventure journal, and a map of the town) to the children’s homes, which help them to more immersively maintain the domestic roleplaying with their parents, siblings or friends. It helps to bridge the digital divide that exists between families who have the means to print off materials at home, and those who do not. It also allows theatres to reach new and more diverse audiences, beyond the kind who would find their own way through social media and the internet to an online digital theatre portal.

The boxed game could be distributed by the bookshops via click and collect services, which are allowed under the current 2021 UK lockdown regulations. But it could also eventually be distributed through public libraries, toy shops, gaming cafes, charity shops, or any other physical space where parents were looking for entertainment for their children, helping to open up new diverse audiences. By engaging an audience with a game in the intimacy of their home, which places them at the heart of the story from the start, this would then encourage them into contact with the theatre through the online portal, a contact they might be too daunted to make in a theatre building that they might not see as being “for them”.

This audience of readers would then come together for the two episodes of interactive Zoom theatre, hosted by our Kit Theatre actors. In the bookshops theatres would find passionate champions of an innovative and bespoke immersive experience that aims to boost children’s reading habits and a love of stories, as well as a wide-reaching, modular box office capable of opening up new audiences: in the theatre company bookshops would find engaging immersive performance experts able to offer their customer base a personal and bespoke immersive extension to their reading experiences, strengthening their bonds with their customer base and providing exciting publicity from the launch of an innovative new narrative form.

Fully tested and piloted with school children

Storyhaven was successfully piloted over 6 weeks with a class of 30 school children during October/November 2020 with excellent feedback on the engagement of the children during the experience and how much the form allowed them transformative social experiences with their peer groups, alleviated the stress of Covid social distancing, and boosted their love of reading and creative writing skills.

The children were really excited about sharing their stories with the shaman during the live-streams. The classroom was absolutely buzzing afterwards!

Mrs Ochiltree, Year 6 teacher, Brentry Primary School.

Collaborators involved in the project:

Gareth Osborne is the concept designer and writer of Storyhaven. He is a children’s author, winner of the Bath Children’s Novel Award, represented by A. M. Heath. He has worked as a content developer for Pearson Education on their virtual literacy platform and has over twenty years of experience as a teacher using drama and storytelling to engage children in the classroom. He is also part-time postgraduate researcher at the University of Bristol investigating new forms of immersive storytelling and learning for children.

Fran Moulds is a theatre director, writer and performer, who creates theatrical experiences to inspire and empower young people. She has worked extensively with immersive theatre companies such as Punchdrunk Engagement, Kit Theatre and Coney. Fran directs the live-stream immersive theatre sessions between the children and the actor playing the Storyhaven shaman.

Tom Bowtell is a writer, director and performer, and artistic director of Kit Theatre Company, whose mission is to use Adventures in Learning to improve children’s educational engagement and achievement and unlock their creative talent. He has received various awards for his work, including a BAFTA. He plays the role of the Storyhaven shaman.

One to One Development Trust are an award-winning arts organisations who work with communities to co-produce digital storytelling projects.  Through their multi-award-winning in-house digital storytelling and games development studio, Dreaming Methods, One to One’s Digital Director, Andy Campbell, is helping to develop the story app and website for Storyhaven.

Nele Diel is a well-renowned game illustrator based in Germany, who has illustrated board games such as Battle for Rokugan by Astorian Press and Valhal by Tetrahedron Games. She produced all the illustrations for Storyhaven.