5 things you don’t know about …performing for young audiences
The Thing cant sleep! Which means Emily Brown can’t either. So Emily and her best friend Stanley the Rabbit embark on wild adventures to solve both their problems.
Brought to Malaysia by Gardner & Wife, Emily Brown and The Thing is based on the children’s book by by Cressida Cowell. It has been adapted for the stage by UK charity Tall Stories, a group internationally recognised for its blend of storytelling and original music.
Sophie Alice, Andrew Mundie and Sam Buitekant play Emily Brown, Stanley the Rabbit, and the Thing, respectively. ARTERI talked to the three actors about what it takes to put on a play for children. Their answers:
1. Kids are smart, so don’t talk down to them
Sophie says, “It is important to treat the show like any other and not to change the style of performance because it’s for children.” Children are intelligent and do not appreciate it when you oversimplify things. Sophie emphasises, “you don’t need to patronise them.”
So watch out for exaggerated actions and don’t be afraid to include a few ‘harder’ words in the dialogue. Kids learn from listening and naturally pick up new terms in context.
2. The length of the show matters more when your audience are kids
Andrew says, “Our shows are almost always an hour long. Any longer and smaller children may get restless.” At the same time, shows are “long enough to capture imaginations and take (the kids) on an exciting adventure.” When choosing the story, you need to have an idea of the age range of children who will attend. This will help you better adapt a story for your audience.
The hour-long Emily Brown and the Thing maintains the interest and excitement of their young audiences, by delivering dialogue with comic movements. Sam says, “If you’re able to keep a child’s attention then you’re doing something right.”
3. Actors should have as much fun as their audiences
“You must be open to play and have fun on stage,” says Sophie. “If you don’t have fun, how will the audience have fun?” While some actors may not believe that children’s theatre is a place for serious thespians, Andrew clarifies that it is in fact a great place to hone your craft. This is because children are naturally frank with their feedback. “(Children are) really honest and that works two ways. It’s like you know they’ll tell you if they’re bored but they’ll also let you know if they’re really excited and enjoying themselves.”
Kids are sharp and can tell when the actors are enjoying themselves. Sophie finds that working with the puppets used in Emily Brown, helped her to have fun; “it’s so lovely to play with them and bring them to life.”
4. The visual of the sets must awe your audience
Kids respond better to things that are colourful and vivid, so make sure to create a set that captures their imaginations. For Emily Brown, Sophie says, “you want to bring the book to life, so equal focus should be made on the language as well as the physicality and appearance of the show.” Children love stories so a descriptive narrative with exciting dialogue can help them visualize the story and follow the show better.
“Make sure to create a set that captures their imaginations.”
But as kids have a more fluid appreciation of reality, a little can go a long way. Sam says, “You can go as far as the imagination can take you because children’s imaginations are the best!”
5. It can be physically demanding
Andrew says, “Sometimes we do two or three shows a day so we have to stay very fit.” A lot of times, you will be playing larger-than-life characters with boundless energy and you have to be able to embody the character accurately. Children are very active by nature and they will respond to you better if you have an active and energetic presence.
“Imagination, energy and an interesting face will get you far in children’s theatre,” adds Sam. Luckily, the fertile imaginations of kids also respond to sound as well, so the actors and director come up with ways to use sound and lighting in between physically demanding scenes to give the actors a breather. In Emily Brown, during costume changes, the lights dim and Sam would uses a mic hidden inside the house to groan like the Thing, rustle like a leafy tree and even roar like an avalanche. All ‘actions’ happened within the audience’s imagination.
“Imagination, energy and an interesting face will get you far in children’s theatre.”
It is clear that acting for children can be just as demanding and rewarding as acting for adults and it just might be a lot more fun. An actor must respect his audience no matter what age they are but this becomes more significant when doing childrens theatre. Andrew says, “for a lot of kids this is their first experience going to see a show so you know it’s really important…to make sure it’s as good as can be.”