Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Teacher’s Notes

Resource created by Leeds Heritage Theatres.

This learning story looks at how has entertainment in Leeds changed since Victorian times.


A Global View

Leeds' first theatre opened in 1771. Also at this time, explorer James Cook returned to Britain from his first voyage around the world with a major collection of plant specimens from relatively 'unknown' places, including New Zealand and Australia. In North Carolina, America, the Battle of Alamance took place between local militia and a group of rebels who wanted freedom from British rule. (Within five years America had declared independence from Britain). Additionally, Charles Messier, a French astronomer, had the first version of his 'Catalogue of Nebulae and Star Clusters' published. Many of the astronomical features he identified are still referred to by their 'Messier number'.


Curriculum Links

  • KS2 History:  Victorians, WW2
  • KS2 Music: Develop an understanding of the history of music.
  • KS2 English: Drama
  • KS2 Maths: (See activity ideas)
  • Arts Award: Research local arts organisations, try a new skill or art form, meet professionals.


Activity Ideas

  • ‘Create your own music hall act’ using the downloadable worksheet 
  • Have a look at the historic playbills for the Grand Theatre and City Varieties. Create your own poster for the opening night of a show at Leeds Grand Theatre, Hyde Park Picture House or the City Varieties.
  • Write a newspaper article about the opening night of Leeds Grand Theatre. Use Wilson Barrett’s speech as a starting point
  • Write your own story, comic, poem, newspaper article, diary or book inspired by the people, buildings and stories you can see and read about in this resource.
  • Listen to the soundscape of the audience at City Varieties.

    How might a soundscape for the audience at the Grand theatre sound? Why might they be different? Create and record your own soundscape for a theatre – who might be there, what would they be doing and saying?
  • Look at the City Varieties Management Book records for 1902. Find out about the other acts that were performing the same night at Houdini?
  • Create short scenes, freeze frames or drama performances depicting stories from theatre’s past. You could create your own music hall acts or perform Wilson Barratt’s opening night speech for example.
  • There are lots of stories of ghosts at both Leeds Grand Theatre and City Varieties. Write your own ghost story inspired by pictures of the venue.  How will you build suspense to make your story really spooky?  Think about the language you will use and how you will describe what your characters see, hear, smell and feel.
  • Calculate profit made from ticket or ice cream sales at a full theatre performance.
  • Estimate and measure the dimensions of the stage, estimate how many seats in the auditorium at one of the Leeds venues.
  • Build a to-scale model of the theatre from a 2D net.
  • Create your own performance stage. Explore different strength materials and structures to build scenery and sets. Or design a set for a chosen production and create a model box to show how it would look in 3D.
  • Explore the use of different light and sound effects to create different moods on stage. Mixing coloured light together, create sounds of different pitch and volume and discuss the effect this can have on a performance.
  • Who works in a theatre? List all the different jobs that might be involved in developing and showing a theatre performance. What skills do you need to work in a theatre? Where could you develop these skills? Consider wider job roles such as, programming, marketing, learning, finance and front of house, theatre design, technical support etc.
  • Find out more about one of the members of staff at the Grand Theatre, City Varieties or Hyde Park Picture House. How did they get their job? What skills do they need? What did they do before they worked there? What inspires them about their work?
  • Create your own theatre business as a class. What kind of shows will you present? What is unique about your theatre? Who is your audience? How much will you charge for tickets? How many seats will you have? How will you pay your staff? Will you sell sweets and merchandise?
  • Do you go to the theatre much? Do a survey to see who in your class has been to the theatre recently. How could you persuade more people to go to the theatre?
  • Use the Historic England website to find out which other buildings you know of are Listed 


Discussion Ideas

  • Why are some buildings listed?
  • If you could protect a building in Leeds by giving it Listed status which one would you choose? Why? List all your reasons for protecting your building and discuss these with a partner. Listen to their choice of building and reasons for protecting it. If you had to choose between the two, which would you choose?
  • Look at the image of the audience at the City Varieties from 1910. In Victorian times people who were poorer tended to go to the City Varieties. Wealthier people went to the Grand Theatre. Why do you think this was? What has changed today?
  • Why do people go to the theatre? What would happen if there were no theatres? Would it matter? What makes Leeds historic theatre venues important?
  • Do you think the story about Houdini getting stuck in a beer barrel at the City Varieties is true? How can we discover the truth about some of the stories we hear about the theatres?