Here’s why the whole of London (and beyond) should rejoice as the Little Angel Theatre unveils their new Creative Learning Centre

I will never forget my first ever tour of the Little Angel Theatre. The then Artistic Director Peter Glanville took me back stage to where the magic happens, and being greeted by a sea of puppets was quite a wondrous thing. If only I could have had the opportunity to be a part of this world when I was younger. ‘I know it sounds impossible, but we do cater for all ages,’ Slavka Jovanovic points out. ‘On Wednesday nights we have an adult beginners club for anyone aged 18-108.’

It’s a couple of days after the big launch of the Little Angel’s new Creative Learning Centre and Slavka – at the time in the interim role of Artistic Director, a position now filled by Samantha Lane – finally has some time to talk about her education projects since arriving at the theatre in 2001. ‘Initially I undertook a feasibility study to see whether there was an appetite for puppetry education,’ she looks back. ‘I started with one event for the public, a Saturday club where children could make puppets and performances, and a creative residency project in six primary schools. Step by step we have built partnerships in the Islington community, as well as a reputation in the arts world as the “go to place for puppetry”. Three years ago we realised that we had outgrown Little Angel Theatre itself – we engage with over 8,000 people a year through our participatory and training work locally and nationally. We needed our own base from which to work, teach and create from.’

That base is a couple of minutes walk away from the theatre in Sebbon Street. The launch was a wonderful occasion, with so many locals packed in to see children’s novelist Michael Rosen and the Mayor of Islington officially open the new Creative Learning Centre. Here the theatre can host an expanded programme of education and participation activities for all ages, professional development, training and mentoring, as well as offering rehearsal, workshop and office space.

‘The idea behind Little Angel Studios is to house a Creative Learning Centre for puppetry and the arts,’ Slavka says. ‘It will house an expanding programme of education and participation activity, professional development, courses and classes, training and mentoring. It also offers rehearsal and workshop space, as well as a resource library. Little Angel Studios is a locally focussed community resource as well as a beacon for artists from across the UK.

‘At Little Angel Theatre we are passionate about puppetry,’ Slavka begins when we look at the education programme in a little more detail. ‘The Creative Learning Centre will offer a mixed programme of activities and training in puppetry for beginners through to experts. There will be a range of termly classes for beginners where you can learn to make a specific type of puppet, such as marionette/string puppet, table top puppet, or shadow puppet, and you can learn how to perform with a puppet. We offer opportunities for people of all backgrounds to develop skills and confidence. We have strong links in Islington with schools, libraries, museums and community organisations. We build on these relationships to create bespoke and meaningful courses, workshops and events at the studios.’

To reiterate where we started, there will be something for everyone. ‘We have a range of activities for toddlers through to children, teens and adults,’ Slavka enthuses. ‘For example, on Wednesdays from 10-11.15am we host our weekly club Crafty Kids for two to four-year-olds, and shortly we will be starting an after-school puppet club for five to 11-year-olds on Wednesdays from 4-5.30pm, plus the adult beginners club in the evening. And that’s just an example of what goes on in one day of the week!’

The very fact that beginners can have the opportunity to create a show from scratch and perform it on stage at the theatre is enough to bring out my inner child. At the end of the day, though, Slavka points out everyone is in the same boat. ‘The reason why adults and children are drawn to our Creative Learning Centre are very varied – from the hobbyist to the specialist. However, we are all here because we love puppets, so ultimately we hope that everyone will share our passion for puppetry, creativity and the arts.’

Words: Mark Kebble

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