Last month we started the R&D on our new show for 3 – 6 year olds called ‘An Unseen World’. As always we start from a point of participatory activities with an age appropriate group of children and young people, on this occasion we were working with 2 reception classes from Globe Primary School in partnership with Half Moon Theatre
We sometimes find that because we use ‘social themes’ or ‘Issues’ as a creative starting point that people make an assumption that the end result will be “worthy” or “educational” rather than an an engaging story that explores how’s these “issues” are represented and relevant to the young audiences lives. We don’t educate as such (as there are not alway correct answers or solutions) but like any good story the aim is to allow the audience to join up their own dots, think creatively and ask questions in order for them to discover their own answers and solutions.
Our approach is not didactic, not preaching or teaching…. just sharing a view point of the world for you to make up your own mind.
So with ‘An Unseen World’ we wanted to pick up on where ‘A Square World’ left off. A Square World was a story about physical barriers that prevented the central character joining in, what happens when a world for cubes is joined by a ball. This was fairly straight forward as physical barriers are tangible, physical and you can see them. So with and Unseen World we wanted to focus on unseen barriers, barriers of attitudes, social etiquette and behaviour…. how do you know if a barrier is there if you can’t see it?
Daryl and Jon spent time with 2 reception classes over 6 days and started with a simple creative question… Help us create a story about someone that breaks the rules. This approach allowed us to address the ‘issue’ as a story rather than as an educational lesson… for one we didn’t know what the answer would be, so how can we ‘teach’ them the answer.
We spent time mapping out their typical day, what they do and what rules they follow. This ranged from brushing teeth, getting dressed, walking to school, lining up, tidying up, lining up, sitting quietly, lining up, getting into a circle and playing. Already the rules that govern their daily lives was becoming apparent and they did them without questioning why.
Then came the fantasy element through the use of story dice…of what they would say if someone eat breakfast in the bath, or brushed their teeth in the school line or had a bath in the kitchen sink? These were silly and playful which allowed us to explore the theme of unseen barriers a what happened if you didn’t follow the rules in a fanatical setting.
Most of the children thought the person doing these things were being naughty and a pattern started to emerge of how they would deal with them. Each time they would 1) Re-explain the rule such eg. breakfast has to be eaten in the kitchen, 2) Give advice on how to do it eg. sit at the kitchen table and 3) if still not doing it properly they would tell you off.
We used a series of cones as characters to help form lines, circles and groups and brought thinks back to reality to find out what would they do if one of them didn’t line up properly, sit quietly in a circle, made noise or didn’t want to be part of the big group when they were supposed to be. Again they all thought they were being naughty and should be sent to time out.
Yet when we explained that because the character was always being told off and sent to time out this meant he couldn’t join in with everyone else… so maybe it was the rules that made him seem naughty and what could we do to change or adapt them so he was able to join in.
Suddenly they decided that lining up at school didn’t need to be in a straight line… it could be a zig zag, small social groups were established rather than 1 large group, at playtime everyone wore headphones, and you could brush your teeth upside down if you wanted to (as long as they were clean).
Our approach to addressing ‘issues’ is always allowing the audience to create their own solutions, but this can only happen if the audience has engaged and enjoyed a story that is playful, emotional and relevant to this lives. This is why our R&D’s always start with the children and young people and an idea for a show, they help us find the solutions before we even take one step into the rehearsal room.
With that in mind in February the creative team head into the rehearsal room to bring this story to life.