Watching is an opera for children designed to excite their interest in healthy sleep patterns and to raise awareness of the benefits of sleep among care providers, families and educators. 

Its development has enabled children from an inner city area of Edinburgh to experience and perform in theatrical activities of international quality, and to explore sleep in the classroom from historical, biomedical, musical, dramatic and literary perspectives.

Culminating in four sell-out public performances at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in March 2015, the project has involved 120 children aged eight to 12 from Leith Walk Primary School.

Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, has described Watching as “one of a kind. A thrilling exploration of sleep science [which] promises to demonstrate the real impact that art can have on public health”.

The latest in a series of ground-breaking collaborations

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, Watching is the second collaboration between composer Dee Isaacs (Edinburgh College of Art) and librettist Katharine Craik (Oxford Brookes University). 

Like their earlier project, The Quicken Tree, and Dee's later work, Conference of the Birds, it has involved close collaboration with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in the staging of full-scale, outdoor, promenade performances.

Many of the same arts and theatre professionals as worked on earlier projects have returned to the team for Watching, which also involves students from the Music in the Community programme at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA).

The partnership with Leith Walk Primary School has already resulted in another project, Postcards from Our World, which culminated in two new promenade performances in March 2016.

In December 2016, Dee Isaacs and 13 students from Music in the Community take Watching to The Gambia for a performance with 100 children from Deeper Life Primary School.

Led by Dee Isaacs, the project is one of a series involving Music in the Community students and local school children
Film by Ian Dodds

“The Watching project is one of a kind. A thrilling exploration of sleep science through music, theatre and history, [it] promises to demonstrate the real impact that art can have on public health”.

Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience, University of Oxford

Getting people talking about the importance of sleep

The project has stimulated debate about the importance of sleep for young children, not only in the partner Primary School, but in the wider community.

It has had coverage on BBC Radio 3 and on BBC Radio Scotland’s Culture Show.

As well as performances, the team staged a free family drop-in event in the RBGE Palm House in which participants made seventeenth-century sleep remedies, listened to Renaissance lullabies, and explored sleep patterns, past and present.

In May 2015, the Music in the Community Programme at ECA screened a documentary about the making of Watching for a public audience in the Reid School of Music in Edinburgh.

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