Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Theatre that is truly created for very young children

For many years, I have been disturbed by the pressure on Imagination Stage to open our productions to children under age four. While I recognize that parents and teachers are nobly seeking arts experiences for pre-school children, I worry that most small children will be overwhelmed by a 400-seat theatre with amplified actors and a 75 minute-long story. I’ve often observed small siblings brought along to one of our shows who are more interested in how the seat flips up and down or in the dangly earrings that a lady in the next seat is wearing. And quite right, too. When you are very small, your immediate world is also small: Mom and Dad and siblings and home are your universe. And you are fully and rightfully engaged in learning the routines of daily life, the rhythms of nature and your first words.

Happily, with a Theatre Communications Group grant funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Imagination Stage has recently been able to create a play for young children that is an age-appropriate introduction to theatre for children ages 2-4. In our 40-minute play, Wake Up, Brother Bear!, children and caregivers are welcomed into a cozy environment. They are greeted by Sister Bear, who gives each child a small bag with some simple toys inside. Sitting on the floor around a circular playing area, children watch as Brother and Sister Bear discover the seasons of the year, meet a butterfly and chase an elusive fish. Children are invited to join in the action throughout the show. In spring they help transform pieces of silk into a “waterfall;” in summer they use tiny flashlights to suggest “lightening bugs” under a night sky: in autumn they throw leaves into the “lake” and see them dance and so forth. All the action is accompanied by live cello. Themes of the cycle of the seasons, sibling relationships and the dreams we pursue underpin the story, which is funny at times, but also reflective, gentle and a delightful exploration of young imaginations.

--Janet Stanford


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