Sunday, February 15, 2015

Exploring Baby Theatre

Exploring Baby Theatre
Written By: Amanda Urban
Pictures By: Robin Colwell

Lauren Jost, the founder and artistic director of Spellbound Theatre, started our weekend class by asking us all to sit in a circle and play with her. We each took egg shakers and began rhythmically shaking them as Lauren cooed, “Hello, hello, hello. Hello to everyone today. What fun, what fun, what fun to play with you today.”
                  I was hooked.

When I first heard that the weekend course being offered this semester was Theatre for the Very Young, a.k.a. Baby Theatre, I was intrigued. I had never heard of Baby Theatre before and I had no idea how theatre could be made for children ages 0 to 5. What could a baby possibly appreciate about theatre?
                  Well, as it turns out, they can appreciate a LOT. Theatre for the Very Young (TVY) considers children’s developmental stage and creates artistic experiences that will be particularly interesting and enjoyable for them. For example, babies ages 6 months to 18 months (who may or may not be speaking yet) enjoy exaggerated facial expressions, puppets, music, and movement, whereas children who are 4-5 years old have the ability to follow a narrative and be more interactive with actors. It was fascinating to study the developmental stages of children and see the ways that the arts can influence, develop, and entertain them all at once.
After learning about the developmental stages of children, Lauren set up “Stations of Joy” around the room, instructing us to “have fun” and then to find a way to “have even more fun.” Our class wholeheartedly embraced her directions and danced with dolls, spun around with ribbons, fashioned monsters out of sheets, and created stories using only sound. Our Stations of Joy were full of playing, smiles, and laughter.
                  In addition to letting us play and experiment, Lauren also shared some of her TVY activities and stories with us. On Saturday, Lauren ended class by throwing a blanket with drawn-on stars over our heads and leading us as we sang “Twinkle, Twinkle”; I found it enchanting, and I imagine a child would find the experience even more magical than I did. On Sunday, Lauren shared her piece “On the Subway,” where we were able to listen to a captivating story about a plush animal who is accidentally left behind on the subway and goes on an adventure in NYC’s underground. Participating in this original story allowed us the opportunity not only to enjoy ourselves, but also to observe original shadow boxes, see how an artist can play with scale, and observe an educator creating interactive opportunities for the children. It was amazing.

                The highlight of the weekend, however, was brainstorming, developing, and performing an original TVY piece in groups. Each group was charged with the task of creating a developmentally appropriate and engaging piece for a specific age group and we all successfully created pieces that both babies and their adults alike could enjoy. Some groups lovingly created puppets, some groups utilized lighting and shadows, others still used actors to convey their story. It was remarkable to see the magic that can be created when creative minds collaborate to produce theatre.
                  It’s safe to say that everyone in our class thoroughly enjoyed spending their weekend learning about and creating a new, innovative kind of theatre. It was a pleasure to play with my classmates—to discover the joys children find around them and to create theatre that will not only entertain them as babies, but hopefully shape them into adults who will appreciate aesthetic experiences.

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