Watching: an opera for children about sleeping


“The Watching project is one of a kind. A thrilling exploration of sleep science through music, theatre and history, Watching promises to demonstrate the real impact that art can have on public health. The creative team are uniquely equipped to generate fresh interest in the vital yet forgotten question of sleep’s crucial role in our lives. It is a pleasure to watch the project coming to fruition in schools, and at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens, in 2015.”

Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience and Head of Department of Ophthalmology, University of Oxford


Watching is a new opera for children which aims to excite interest in the function of sleep among families living in the city of Edinburgh. Recent studies have established that sleep is important for memory, and have emphasised the correlation between healthy sleep patterns and educational outcomes. Suboptimal sleep is however common among UK schoolchildren due to changes in the working, eating and bedtime patterns of families, earlier school start times, and the use of electronic devices in children’s bedrooms. Medical sleep disorders, including sleep-disordered breathing, are also an increasing problem among children. Despite this, the key role played by sleep in learning and overall quality of life remains under-appreciated by care providers, families and educators.

An exciting collaboration between academics, scientists, theatre practitioners and primary schools, Watching is raising awareness of the links between sleep and academic performance whilst allowing children to experience theatre activities of international quality. In a series of workshops, children have been exploring sleep from historical, biomedical, musical, dramatic and literary perspectives. Working with a team of visiting arts professionals and students from Music in the Community at the University of Edinburgh , they have been rehearsing a new opera which explores past and present sleep and sleeplessness. Watching culminated in four full-scale performances by twilight in March 2015, open to the general public, in the landmark Glasshouses of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden.

Watching is the second project which composer Dee Isaacs and librettist Katharine Craik have delivered together. In 2011, Dee and Katharine collaborated on The Quicken Tree, an opera for children based on Edmund Spenser’s Renaissance poem The Faerie Queene (1590). This project was developed by Music in the Community, an enterprise which brings arts professionals and students into schools in areas of significant deprivation. The Quicken Tree culminated in four performances at the Royal Botanic Garden which brought cutting-edge academic research to new audiences. This project, and others developed by Music in the Community, were funded by charitable donations from companies and individuals.