A Children’s Book Adventure: Zog and the Quest for the Golden Star

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Finally, in a year of lockdown, the end seems in sight and on day one of the exit plan Step 43,865 Warwick Castle has opened its doors with an awesome event which centres around one of the bestselling books from Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, Zog, the story of a clumsy dragon who just wants to be top of the class at Dragon School.

Having had at least 3 months of being able to plan this event since a Merlin attraction was last open it did have a few too many glitches for my liking but it does have a fab layout with clever use of the outside area of the castle. (Especially when you are legally unable to go inside!)

Guests follow a map to different years of Dragon School where they complete challenges and collect stamps to earn their very own Golden Star to show their friends they’re the best in the class.

With 5 stops to attend in total there is some great inspiration for arts businesses up and down the country to create events suitable for all kinds of budgets to get the crowds back in when the world opens up:

  • The first year of dragon school is a simple photo stop where you can pose with Zog while you learn to fly! Not only is this perfectly situated at the entrance, but it is a exceptional way to immediately trigger some social media interaction. People love a photo op plus this can be a cheap and easy thing to set up! My advice? Make sure your social usernames and hashtags are made visible to encourage that user-generated content!
  • The second and third years see interactive floor buttons which triggered great special effects to teach Zog how to roar and breathe fire. Admittedly this is for a higher budget including effects to outdoor speakers, dry ice and water fountains but there are loads of easy and cheaper ideas to encourage interaction. You could use anything from simple tech like QR quotes to send you to videos, polls or pages of your website or some old school carpentry like lifting flaps and spinningwheels! Just make sure there’s some alcohol gel around for hands-on activities!
  • Dragons learn how to capture a princess in year four with two assault courses (one made accessible for wheelchair users) assembled from tree stumps and branches and painted in orange and blue on brand with the event. This is the perfect event for children (and childish adults) and a really clever use of natural, easy to source materials; an excellent idea for any budget!
  • In the final stop dragons learn to fight! A marked-out area with a couple of actors playing knights, including the legendary Sir Galahad teach you to battle. I’m not gonna lie, kids with fake swords can be pretty lethal and I’m really not sure how covid safe it is as social distancing seemed to go out the window, but it certainly created an amazing memory to take home! Also a sneaky way of upselling with a strategically placed merchandise hut containing both Zog memorabilia and an array of medieval weapons, shields and armour you could purchase to take into the training arena. Do you have places where you could add sales to your arts business?

Anything linked with a bestselling children’s book is bound to make tickets sell. It also immediately provides you with another marketing outlet and fanbase!

For some companies, I appreciated that the potential royalties for current books might make them inaccessible but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.  Authors like David Walliams or Michael Morpurgo for example have worked with a wide array of theatre companies, from Heartbreak Productions, a small-scale outdoor theatre company to the Birmingham Stage Company which tours mid to large scale theatres and has been known to house venues of the West End, so they can be made available to a spread of different budgets.

It’s also worth thinking about popular works that are out of copyright.  Generally, these become free 70 years after the writer’s death. (There are exceptions like Peter Pan where the royalties were given to Great Ormond Street Hospital by J. M. Barrie so all copyright is received as a charitable donation.)

So, look back through history! Anything by William Shakespeare… that’s free. Jane Austin, the Brontës, Louisa May Alcott… free. Dickens, Conan-Doyle, H. G. Wells… you get the idea. It’s also worth checking out school curriculums, creating educational days out to attract parents and entertain children. Books like Animal Farm by George Orwell are just out of copyright and a popular choice for GSCE due to the fact that it’s short and engaging.

Do your research, reach out to schools or authors and agents, collaborate with other arts companies to pool your resources! It’s been a difficult year for arts companies worldwide and will need some serious innovative thinking to keep them afloat!

Has your company utilised children’s literature in events? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know in the comments.