What moves me

The neverending story

Children, parents, grandparents. We’ve been thrilling to the story of THE SNOW QUEEN for generations. So, can we take it upon ourselves to change the way we tell the story?

The paradoxical thing about childhood is that it survives well into adulthood. This is why grown-ups relate emotionally to their own childhood and to different degrees – perhaps to a stronger degree if they are closely involved with children in their capacity as parent, grandparent or teacher. Childhood is wedged in our adult lives like the tiny splinter wedged in Kay’s heart in the SNOW QUEEN fairy tale. A splinter that affects how we see and experience things.

Theatre for children isn’t just aimed at children; it also speaks to the accompanying adults. It could be said that for the duration of the evening the adults go back to being children. Consciously or subconsciously, they hark back to their own childhood experiences – filtered, of course. The emotion they feel is a function of their recollection.

This means that at Advent, more than at any other time of the year – and especially in the fairy tale genre – the actors are playing to a dual audience: the children, who are going into it as blank slates, and the grown-ups, who are bringing their own personal associations, expectations and values to the piece. In the process they bring questions with them that may even dampen the children’s desire for entertainment and experience. Questions such as: What form should kids’ theatre take? What form did it take when I was small? What kind of stuff is suitable for my children? And what kind of stuff can I put up with?

It is often that case that adults accompanying kids to the theatre are looking for cuteness. Grappling with real-world issues, they may be feeling the childhood splinter in their heart and yearning for time out from their adult reality. They may be wishing they could immerse themselves in a world unencumbered by job, tax return, PTA meetings and horror stories on the evening news, submerge themselves in a reduced world of softer edges and warmer colours. Adults like finding things cute and being allowed their ‘Ahhh!’ moments, but the scope granted to them for that is much narrower than the space granted to children. It may be limited to a Snoopy coffee cup on their desk at work or Mickey Mouse pyjamas. These are their nods to the comfort blanket, their moments of relief from the daily grind.

In theatre this yearning for cuteness can be reflected in a »cute« way of telling a familiar story, a yearning for warm, soft-focus costumes, sets, music and acting styles. But this expectation of cuteness often runs counter to the needs of the children, which may be quite different. Do children need cuteness? Do they want the »thrill of enchantment triggered by prettiness in miniature«, as the German Duden puts it? What do children like? Maybe it isn’t »prettiness in miniature« at all. Maybe they want a wild world of anarchy, the emancipating self-determination of child heroes pushing against rules imposed by the adult world.

Children do not need to experience things through the eyes, ears and hearts of their adult chaperones. They want heroes they can relate to, characters who are a few developmental steps ahead of them, who are exciting, who give them space to feel, think and act. Above all, though, children don’t want to be feeling the splinter in the hearts of their parents, which is why the children of today are not being served a frozen version of yesteryear theatre. The music is new and new forms of narration are being tested – all in the interests of creating the best point of contact with children. New musical theatre for children is theatre for a new audience – and, ideally, for an older audience, too. If it comes off, then we get the Asterix and Obelix effect: theatre on a number of levels simultaneously, speaking to adults and children alike.


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