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Theatre for Children

Theatre is a unique, and immersive experience that can benefit all ages. It teaches children how to think creatively, and strengthens their imaginations. That’s why children’s theatre is so important, and more communities are starting to recognise how important theatre is to children’s development. It can help strengthen communication skills, using music, dance, acting etc to communicate a story. This therefore helps children to communicate in multiple different ways.

Performing in Theatre for children, might look easy and fun, but it is one of the most difficult genres of theatre to execute. It is physically and mentally draining doing any show twice a day for weeks, but when performing in an interactive show marketed at children, you need unwavering amounts of energy. It can be unpredictable how children may react in a performance setting. Some might try to join in and some will definitely shout out as I have found from this project. You need to be charismatic as a performer, and bring energy to the performance that makes the children want to watch you. Improvisation is a key part of this style of theatre, and is a mandatory skill if your show contains audience interaction. You have no clue how kids are going to respond to your questions, and it could possibly change aspects of the show. So as an actor, you need to be adaptable and able to bring the show back onto its course, improvising if necessary.

Our production involved a lot of magic realism.

“Importantly, in magical realism the fantastical and supernatural exist in a realistic setting and are accepted by other characters as normal. They coexist in a realistic world that would ordinarily make them irreconcilable.”

(Cash, 2020) (1)

In our production, we incorporated magical fairies (the nannas) into a normal, human world ruled by the King and Queen. Like this quote says, the magic in our play was accepted by everyone, and never questioned or explained. Magic heavily impacts children, as they grow up in a world believing in things like Santa Clause, the easter Bunny etc. Incorporating themes of magic into our play, helps children as it triggers the idea to look at a problem and have creative solutions for it. It defies expectations, so we are encouraging children to have original ideas and be imaginative with our performance.

Here is a list of recommend devices to include in a Children’s Theatre production that I found from this link:

(2)Meryns-Drama-Logblog (2012) Children’s theatre reportTumblr. Available at: https://meryns-drama-logblog.tumblr.com/post/39038063372/childrens-theatre-report

– tableaux or a freeze frame
– repetition 
– chorus
– mime
– direct address
– puppets 
– exaggeration
– slow motion
– dynamics 
– dance
– fast forward
– flashbacks
– reverse/rewinding
– unison
– singing
– narrating 
– audience participation
– split scene/cross cutting 
– slapstick/ physical theatre

We used all of these in our production of Sleeping Beauty at some point. These devices are particularly important, as they are all engaging devices for children, as they stimulate their imagination and creativity. I think that our use of shadow puppetry, singing, and dance were there most effective devices we used. All of these are different medias to tell a story compared to just narrating, and we used each of them effectively.

A common misconception when creating a show directed at children, is actors often feel the need to actually act like a child to communicate with their audience. This will only patronise them, so you mustn’t talk down to your audience as that won’t interest them. Louise Callow, co-founder of Scamp Theatre says: “You are under more pressure with kids theatre than you are with theatre for adults. If you get it wrong, then they may not want to go again”. You have the responsibility as a performer, to engage the children in a meaningful way that encourages a love for theatre, if you don’t bring energy or commitment, they may remember the experience as miserable and associate negative connotations with performing.

A basic necessity to devising a children’s theatre show, is giving the younger audiences a hero/heroine. They need to see something in this story that they want to succeed, as well as teaching them good morals. That’s why themes for children’s theatre often relate to magic or fairytales, because it excites them and typically gives them a contrast between right and wrong.

Theatre for children can also be used to educate them. The Theatre in Education (TIE) movement was first created in 1965, as a way to use theatre and drama to create a range of learning opportunities for young people. TIE is something still being used in schools today, to send a clear moral or social message to young audiences. TIE performances use all the same technical devices as other children theatre productions, but typically they are performed by a smaller cast. Obviously this wasn’t the case with our performance, however theatre companies often travel to the schools themselves opposed to have them come to their venue. This also means that the actors won’t know the area they are performing in until they arrive, so they have to be very adaptable and prepared to change their blocking depending on the space.

In conclusion, I have learnt lots about the purpose of theatre for young audiences through my research in this project, that definitely benefited me when it came to performing. I believe that our show would have been very different given we hadn’t gone into every show full of energy and prepared to improvise. If we hadn’t been adaptable as performers, then we might not have received such wonderful responses from audiences.

References

(1)Cash, J. (2020) Magical realism in the theatreThe Drama Teacher. Available at: https://thedramateacher.com/magical-realism-in-the-theatre/

(2)Meryns-Drama-Logblog (2012) Children’s theatre reportTumblr. Available at: https://meryns-drama-logblog.tumblr.com/post/39038063372/childrens-theatre-report

Taylor, D. (2017) Why do kids need theatre?Orlando REP. Available at: https://www.orlandorep.com/kids-need-theatre/

Bowie-Sell, D. (2017) 5 things you need to make the Perfect Theatre Show for KidsWhatsOnStage. Available at: https://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/news/5-things-perfect-kids-show-scamp-theatre_43346.html

Thompson , C. 7 storytelling tips to successfully engage a younger audienceAvidly. Available at: https://www.avidlyagency.com/blog/en-gb/blog/insights/storytelling-tips-to-successfully-engage-a-younger-audience

Chirico, L. (2018) My latest children’s Theatre Do’s and don’tsOnStage Blog. OnStage Blog. Available at: https://www.onstageblog.com/columns/2018/2/2/my-latest-childrens-theatre-dos-and-donts

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