By Koleka Putuma
One of the challenges of creating inter-disciplinary work for young audiences is a) how to foreground the language and instrument of the body in a way that is accessible and understandable for the baby and/or young audience, b) finding ways of incorporating that instrument without isolating the young audience member’s reception of the work. Another challenge is how to create a cohesive product that fuses sound, materials and the physical landscape in a way that will engage the child without overwhelming or overstimulating them. In other words, for example, how do you baby-whisper at just the right volume and tempo, and with the suitable materials to keep the baby seated and focused for twenty to forty minutes. These are questions that were asked repeatedly during the creation process for the following works: Ekhaya, aimed at 3-7 year olds, KNOCK!, aimed at 3-7 year olds and SCOOP: Kitchen Play for Moms and Babes, aimed at 2 week-12 month old babies and their carers.
In 2015 Magnet Theatre, based in Cape Town, South Africa, sought to create new original works for children under seven. The year’s repertoire included of Ekhaya, and SCOOP: Kitchen Play for Moms and Babes. Each production underwent a two-week incubation process facilitated by international children’s theatre experts, who were sourced through ASSITEJ SA. This was followed by a four-week creation process, and the productions then went on to tour for four weeks. The first two productions: Ekhaya, toured for two weeks in Cape Town and two weeks outside of Cape Town, more specifically Clanwilliam (Ekhaya). SCOOP, being the first production for babies under twelve months in South Africa, only toured locally for four weeks, as to first establish solid relationships with nearby children’s institutions.
Ekhaya, incubated under Gabi Dan Droste, explores the notions of home and how children understand their relationship with home. It delves into their understanding of what it means to be at home in various contexts. It utilises appropriate language, song, and imagery constructed by the body and waste boxes. Ekhaya crafts a whimsical world, where water bubbles appear from boxes and chalk makes the invisible visible though simple drawing. The narrative follows a child who is without a box, which is symbolic for a home, and desires nothing more than to own one. In the end through the help of her friends and through a series of discoveries, her wish is granted. We then follow her relationship with this box (home) and the various activities that take place in and around it. The audience witnesses the protagonist sleeping in her home, doing chores in her home and having friends over in her home. At the end the audience is invited to draw their home. The production is performed in three languages: Isixhosa, Afrikaans and English, to accommodate the range of audiences that it aims to reach.
SCOOP: Kitchen Play for Moms and Babes is performed in a contained relaxing space, and is able to accommodate 6-8 moms or dads and babes at a time. With the use of sounds, lights and textures, babies are taken on a journey of sound, light and material textures, crafted to delight, and soothe them. The production relies hugely on an intensive interaction between performer and baby, hence the limited accommodation within the container. The objects consist of kitchen appliances (wooden spoons, and bowls), and household items such as keys and stuffed animals. These objects, carefully chosen because of their accessibility to the caregiver, and the potential they provide to be manipulated for the enjoyment of both the caregiver and child. The use of such simple and everyday objects is a suggestion or offering to the caregiver of the kinds of play that can be conjured in the home without spending or seeking external entertainment.
By utilising reachable and simple material and language in all three productions, the Magnet Early Years Theatre Company sought to create indigenous and accessible work that could translate across different cultures and backgrounds, and more specifically work that was rooted in the South African context. This was accomplished in several ways; one of the ways was by employing physical instruments such as the voice and body to be the fundamental producer for the landscapes and scenarios depicted in the plays. Another strategy was to create an aesthetically pleasing and portable backdrop design that would transport the audience away from their immediate context, i.e the classroom, the clinic, the orphanage living room, for the twenty-forty minutes that they were engaging with the work. And lastly, the performer uses the familiar to assimilate to the audience’s current environment, by asking the child to teach them something that they know; something that is familiar to them, e.g a song they sing every day at the crèche or a dance that they are comfortable with. By sharing this with the performer the audience is empowered and less hesitant to engage with the work and the elements that it utilises. And in turn the experience between performer and audience becomes less invasive and unfamiliar, but rather one of shared pleasure.
SCOOP/EKhaya created by the Magnet Early Years Theatre Company
Directed by Koleka Putuma (under the mentorship of Jennie Reznek)
KNOCK! Created by the Magnet Early Years Theatre Company
Directed by Jennie Reznek Assited by Koleka Putuma
For this project, Magnet Theatre was supported by the National Arts Council Flagship grant.
Magnet Theatre is an award winning physical theatre company that has been operating in and out of South Africa for the past 30 years. Foregrounding the langugae of the body they create cutting edge work that deals with their African and Southern African context. For more information about their productions and youth development programmes go to www. magnettheatre.co.za
Company orientation into Early Childhood Development Theatre, with Gabi Dan Droste, made possible with support from ASSITEJ SA.
Created with the input of Barbara Kölling, artistic director of Helios Theatre Company in Germany. With the support of the Goethe-Institut.
SCOOP: Kitchen Play For Moms And Babes
Created with the input of Anna Newell, artistic director of Replay Theater Company in Belfast, Northern Ireland. With the support of the SA-UK Seasons 2014&2015.
Photographer: Mark Wessels