IN THE ATTIC
Studio 77, Victoria University, 77 Fairlie Tce, Kelburn, Wellington
11/10/2017 - 14/10/2017
Three friends, a dusty attic and an old cardboard box… What could possibly go wrong? When Sam, Alex and Bea fall through a mysterious portal, they find themselves in the absurd world of Owt, where “two is better than one”.
On their quest to get back home, they are drawn deeper into this weird and wonderful world. But when the rules of Owt put one of them in danger, their true strength is put to the test.
In the Attic is a 45-minute romp into the world of imagination, aimed at 8 years old and over.
Studio 77, 77 Fairlie Terrace, Kelburn, Wellington
Wed 11 Oct 2017, 1:30pm–2:15pm
Thu 12 Oct 2017, 6:30pm–8:15pm
Fri 13 Oct 2017, 1:30pm–2:15pm
Sat 14 Oct 2017, 1:30pm–2:15pm
Sat 14 Oct 2017, 6:30pm–8:15pm
General Admission: $5.00
Unwaged Admission: $8.00
Waged Admission: $16.00
Additional fees may apply
Phone Sales: 0800 BUY TIX (289 849) – Ticket Outlets
Door sales may be available – cash only.
Challenging stereotypes in children’s theatre
Third-year theatre students from Victoria University of Wellington are finding out what it takes to create effective children’s theatre.
Victoria’s School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies teaching fellow, Kerryn Palmer, says there is an attitude in New Zealand that theatre for young audiences is merely a ‘filler’ for a theatre company, a money spinner, or something actors may dabble in before they get a ‘real’ job. “But that’s just not the case,” she says. Ms Palmer and students of the third-year Collaborative Production course have devised two children’s theatre shows for the October School Holidays.
Moonlight, for ages 4-8, is about a young girl overcoming her fear of the dark, and In the Attic, for ages 8+, is an adventurous tale about three friends tumbling into a weird and wonderful new world.
The project is part of Ms Palmer’s PhD research into the state of theatre for young audiences in New Zealand, which focuses on how the industry can support practitioners to create more engaging and inspiring theatre works that respect and value children. “My aspiration with this research is to highlight ethical and effective practices, so that New Zealand children can experience consistently high-quality theatre,” says Ms Palmer.
Part of the development of the shows involved going into Wellington primary schools, where the students presented their work and ideas to the children, and the children gave feedback on the shows at different stages of the process. “The children’s feedback became the core inspiration for the shows,” says student Terri Cochrane, “The experience overall has been one of experimenting, relating children to theatre, and theatre to children.”
Inspired by theatre makers such as Wellington’s Trick of the Light (themselves graduates of Victoria’s Theatre Programme) and Australia’s Patch Theatre, the students aspire to create quality theatre for children, to be enjoyed by children and adults alike, Ms Palmer says.
IN THE ATTIC Cast
Corey Wills: Alex
Peter Rogers: Sam
Cassidy Cruz: Bea
Terri Cochrane: Yek
Janaye Henry: Guide 1
Daniel Gagau: Guide 2
Georgia May: Owt Creature, River Creature, Shadow, Whisper
Gemma Revell: Owt Creature, Police Creature, Shadow, Binder
Saffron Troughton: Owt Creature, River Creature, Shadow, Binder
Natalie Wilson: Owt Creature, Police Creature, Shadow, Whisper
Music Composition: Joel Rudolph, Yasmin Golding and Georgia Ball
Live Music: Joel Rudolph
Director: Kerryn Palmer
Production Manager: Sam Tippet
Director Assist: James McKinnon
Theatre Technician: Anna Pastor-Bouwmeester
Stage Manager: Natalie Wilson
Set Design: Gemma Revell, Cassidy Cruz and Georgia May
Costume Design: Terri Cochrane & Saffron Troughton
Sound Design: Peter Rogers & Corey Wills
Choreography: Daniel Gagau
Props: Georgia May
Publicity: Terri Cochrane, Gemma Revell, Emma Maguire and Alex Robertson
Lighting Op: Pernille Himmelmoe
Sound Op: Kevin Orlando
Publicity Mentor: Claire O’Loughlin
Theatre , Family , Children’s ,
But what does it mean?
Review by John Smythe 12th Oct 2017
The focus of director Kerryn Palmer’s PhD research into the state of theatre for young audiences in New Zealand focuses is on how the industry can support practitioners to create more engaging and inspiring theatre works that respect and value children. “My aspiration with this research is to highlight ethical and effective practices, so that New Zealand children can experience consistently high-quality theatre,” says Ms Palmer.
In a Media Advisory entitled ‘Challenging stereotypes in children’s theatre’ she claims “there is an attitude in New Zealand that theatre for young audiences is merely a ‘filler’ for a theatre company, a money spinner, or something actors may dabble in before they get a ‘real’ job.” This probably doesn’t refer to Capital E Theatre for Young People, for whom Ms Palmer has directed many high quality shows (e.g. Kiwi Moon). Capital E often does totally original work too, like An Awfully Big Adventure.
In Auckland Tim Bray Productions is also dedicated to producing quality Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA), specialising in dramatisations of well-known New Zealand children’s books (e.g. Mrs Wishy Washy). Wellington’s KidzStuff Theatre adapts classical folk tales as mini pantos with a strong Kiwi flavour (currently Defrosted). Kapitall Kids often venture into totally original work although these holidays they trade in kids’ pop culture with Mousing Around.
Perhaps elements of Ms Palmer’s comment applies more to The Court Theatre in Christchurch (The Ugly Duckling) and Fortune Theatre in Dunedin (Rumpelstiltskin) – and I’ll leave it to them to challenge her assumptions, or not. The point here is that this is the context in which Kerryn Palmer has worked with Victoria University THEA311 students to devise and direct Moonlight for ages 4-8 and In the Attic for 8-and-over. It should be added that they are “Inspired by theatre makers such as Wellington’s Trick of the Light (themselves graduates of Victoria’s Theatre Programme)” – e.g. Beards! Beards! Beards!; The Bookbinder; The Road that Wasn’t There – “and Australia’s Patch Theatre” – e.g. Mr McGee and the Biting Flea.
If comparisons are relevant it also needs to be noted that In the Attic’s cast of 10 is significantly larger than any of the professional shows exemplified above – and cast and crew sizes are certainly relevant if ticket prices are to be kept low (unless you are operating at the mega scale of Matilda the Musical, with each ticket well over $100).
So how do we define “high-quality theatre”? Good resourcing, obviously: a decent budget allowing for skilled talents, thorough development and rehearsal, and top ‘production values’ (although there can be intrinsic value in staging a ‘no budget’ show imaginatively with the sort of resources children might find at home, school or their local community centre).
The crucial question always remains: does this show engage the target audience and reward their investment of time and attention? Does it – like any story worth telling in any genre – add up to more than the sum of its parts? And because, from about age 3 or 4 on, humans are compulsive about making everything mean something, responsibility needs to be taken for the inevitable ‘lesson’ the audience may deduce, consciously or intuitively.
The setting for In the Attic (designed by Gemma Revell, Cassidy Cruz and Georgia May) sees assorted cardboard cartons adorn what we take to be the titular attic; white drapes cover other items …
For In the Attic, Studio 77’s flexible space is set up for end-on flat-floor staging. In front of the stepped seats an array of cushions for children is cordoned off by what seems to be a row of flickering candles enclosed by paper bags. (Hopefully adults will tell those in their care the ‘candles’ are battery operated, lest the kids try it with real candles at home.)
The action gets off to a promising start: three big ‘kids’ we will come to know as Bea (Cassidy Cruz), Alex (Corey Wills) and Sam (Peter Rogers) creep into the gloom, find the light switch, and explore … Strange things happen when they open cartons and extract items that light up (props: Georgia May) and emit magical music (played live by Joel Rudolph); a baby cries when a doll’s pram is uncovered … All very intriguing and delightful.
An illusion is cleverly executed, whereby the trio climb into a very large carton and are transported to a fantasy world where strange beings observe them – then two Guides (Janaye Henry and Daniel Gagau) welcome them to their world, rapping in American accents, of course (I reiterate my dislike of such voluntary subjugation to cultural imperialism; kids get enough of that from TV, movies and online games).
Bea is intrigued but the boys are scared and want to go home – except the box they came in has disappeared. Bea is given a hand-held light that “only glows when the path is right” – which gives them a way to choose where to go.
They are in a whimsical place called Owt, where “two is better than one” so comical characters are twinned and they speak in rhyming couplets. Two pram-pushing, photo-snapping Policemen (Georgia May and Natalie Wilson) are “looking for the Binders” …
A steam-emitting grate in the floor is the next thing to invite Bea and Alex, and scare Sam, but they explore it anyway – and it leads to their encounter with eccentric Yek (Terri Cochrane), who collects things in a shopping trolley and warns them about the Binders. They (Gemma Revell and Saffron Troughton) turn out to like binding people in ropes and sheets – which at one point appears to represent water because when one of the boys is caught up in one he cries out he can’t swim.
By this time I’m noticing the audience is attentive but they’re not exactly ‘having fun’, which I suppose is not mandatory with a kids’ show. When Sam and Alex lose Bea, however, and one asks the other, “What happened to her?” a child in the audience volunteers, “She got taken” – and gets no response. Despite some of the Owt characters taking a silent interest in the kids on cushions, the ‘fourth wall’ is firmly in place for the ‘real world’ characters. Is this a conscious convention, I wonder? Has thought been given to the question of audience interaction – which most experienced theatre-going children welcome and tend to expect?
We learn that Bea is in great danger – presumably because she is on her own and “two is better than one”. The Guides remind the boys to be careful who they trust; the Binders declare, “All we want is your soul”; a witches’ brew and spell brings Bea back; a necklace has inside it “a power that’s reckless / It’ll leave you breathless / When you’re under its spell” …
Now this should be a spoiler but I have to reveal it to indicate why I, and the family group beside me, become bewildered by the ending. As I understand it, Alex gets the necklace and gives it to Yek who tells them to run – Bea and Sam make it to the now returned carton (which will take them back to the attic) and Alex doesn’t; all they are left with is his hat. The end.
What does this mean? What might the 8-and-overs take away from that? Never explore anywhere alone (including your own imagination)? Two is good but three is not? Obey the rules imposed by strangers but at the same time trust no-one?
From this first outing In the Attic presents lots of promising and often delightful raw material in great need of a playwright (or co-writers), able to work it all into a coherent and cohesive whole that communicates clearly to the audience and resonates beyond itself (just as good chefs turn raw ingredients into a tasty and nutritious dish). Elements, once introduced, need to be well used; characters need to be clearly delineated and relatable, and ideally changed by their experiences; set-ups need to pay off (the Policemen’s photos, for example); the results need to be interrogated and responsibility needs to be taken for what the audience might make it all mean.
Good engineering may not be visible but it’s crucial if we are to trust a story, a building, a road, a vehicle … It’s worth noting that Trick of the Light and Patch Theatre credit writers – and so does Capital E, even with devised works like An Awfully Big Adventure. There is much more to play-making than meets the eye.
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