Fun in the Theatre

Originally written for ArtsProfessional

Norman Shadowboxer

At a recent Devoted and Disgruntled satellite event, I met two members of Filskit Theatre – a company using innovative projection techniques to make work for younger audiences. As producer of EmptyBox Theatre, it was great to talk to people who make similar work and to discuss how exciting it can be to make.

Having worked with young people in various capacities for nearly ten years, I’m incredibly passionate about finding ways to engage them through theatre – with such potential existing to experiment with ways of working, young audiences can be transported to different worlds through simple techniques. Pantomime can be a fantastic example of how children can really get into theatre – when an audience of hundreds of families can get involved in the play they are seeing performed, it breaks down the fourth wall and helps the experience be more enjoyable for all. Work for these audiences can continue to be so beyond pantomime.

Travelling Light are a great example of a company who have inspired my own practice. A few years ago I saw their production of Shadow Play, which was a non-verbal piece for young children – and I’ve never seen children so enraptured by a piece of theatre. The beauty of the show was that everything was so simple – large sheets of paper, simple props and musical accompaniment from simple instruments made me feel like anyone could recreate the conditions if they wished, and really tapped into a child’s sense of play.

For EmptyBox Theatre’s production of Norman Shadowboxer – which we took to the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe – our set was comprised of cardboard boxes, simple desk lamps and a bed-sheet to cast shadows upon; even our central character was a puppet made of cardboard. Playing with ideas during the development of the piece was great fun – we were all able to tap into our own sense of childish curiosity, and the simpler the ideas the more effective they seemed. Feedback from audiences really highlighted how well the simplicity of the show worked in its favour, and we’ve also held workshops which have created conditions easily replicated by children and parents at home; if you can get some cardboard and a lamp or torch, then children can create their own shadow theatres at home.

Even larger productions work best when they are at their most simple – in Watershed Productions’ Charlie and Lola’s Bestest Play, bubbles and paper butterflies being sprayed over the audience get fantastic reactions from the children in the audience, and Melly Still and Tim Supple’s Beast and Beauties uses overhead projectors to great effect merely by having actors draw backdrops to a scene on them. Theatre doesn’t always need to be grand and complex for it to work – and the more those of us making such work can be reminded of how much fun it can be, the better our work will become.

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