The multimodal school play: integrating performative digital animation into narrative and set design

The multimodal school play: integrating performative digital animation into narrative and set design

Michelle Cannon, Sara Hawley, Theo Bryer, Rebecca Wilson
UCL Institute of Education (IOE), University of London

A group of researchers from UCL IOE secured funds from the UKLA to develop a project to explore re-inventing the end of year school play in an inner London primary school. The idea was for children to design, build and control a digitally animated set that was integrated into the dramatic action. The research was rooted in the notion that literacy practices are constantly evolving and that everyday digital routines, vernacular storytelling, and multimodal forms could be embodied and made manifest as an integral part of traditional arts, drama and expressive practices.

In June 2021, a Year 6 class worked with a professional animator from Margate-based theatre group ‘1927’ to develop silhouette puppets that would become part of the animated set design for the end of year staging of ‘The Lion King’. Several animated sequences were created using the Stop Motion app, a light box, and layers of puppets and craft materials. These movie clips were edited, embedded in slides and projected onto a large screen. During the performance, at key points in the script, the control of both slides and soundtrack were the responsibility of two Year 6 pupils. The inspiration for the project came from 1927’s unique, theatrical aesthetic incorporating drama, mime, recorded narration, live music and most notably digitally projected animations with which the actors interact. We suggest that the blending of digital media with puppetry, moving image, music, song, live action, the spoken word, lights, the visual and performing arts, and everyday software, is an example of integrated creative arts and literacy practice that could be ubiquitous in schools. 

Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with staff and pupils before, during and after the performance, as well as observations, photos and video footage of the making processes and rehearsals.  We are writing up our reflections on the implications for literacy of the ‘multimodal school play’ from three perspectives – that of the class teacher, the media teacher and the drama teacher. We are asking questions related to how pupils’ existing digital media skills and talents are mobilised in a primary school play environment; the unique learning affordances of performative digital animation in relation to literacy; and the opportunities for enactment that extend literacy practices across time and space. Raymond Williams’s structure of feeling will be used as a lens through which to view our observations and data, extending this complex formulation to incorporate theories of embodiment and materiality. In due course we will provide links to all published material relating to this project on this page.

For further details, please contact Michelle Cannon at

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