I’m Ben Fletcher-Watson, and I’m in the second year of a PhD at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, but from March to August, I’m on a placement with Hippotrix to bring my research skills to bear on “White” the app.
As researcher for the “White” project, I’m exploring the many facets of app development. I’ve used an iPad, and shared it with my children, since 2011, but had little idea about the nuts and bolts of creating an app from scratch. The field is so new that practice is constantly evolving, and theoretical underpinnings have not yet been formulated; while there are obvious parallels both with computer game design and educational toys, the touchscreen interface and simplicity of design renders the process distinctly different.
My area of study for my PhD is Scottish theatre for the very young, meaning children under five-years-old. “White” is a key point of reference in my research, being the most successful Early Years production in Scotland’s history, so I was delighted when the opportunity came up to work with Hippotrix as they created an app inspired by this wonderful show. Already I can see many links between apps for children and theatre for children – for example, the same debates crop up in both arenas (entertainment versus education; the role of the parent or carer; intuition versus rule-based formats; frivolity or a vital introduction to a new world) and the struggle for legitimacy is repeated.
The value placed on narrative is especially interesting, as it has been an area of contention within Early Years theatre ever since the genre appeared three decades ago. “If it doesn’t have a story, it can’t be theatre,” many critics state, decrying the free-form participatory or immersive forms that shows for babies often take. Yet some of the best apps for children employ a similarly non-narrative format, allowing the user to choose their own path through a new world, rather than being constrained by a linear story. “White” does have a definite narrative, but we’re currently exploring how it can be transformed into an app, maintaining its essential theatricality, without simply becoming a picture book version.
The world of “White” is beautiful and enchanting; Shona Reppe’s design has delighted children all around the world, while Cotton and Wrinkle (created by Andy Manley and Ian Cameron) have transcended culture as they now pop up in Norwegian (“Hvit”) and Welsh (“Gwyn”).
My own journey into this magical world is just beginning.