Early Adopters

Published on 10 November 2014

Why it’s good to introduce kids to the arts.

TEXT BY JOEL TAN

Kids often get the short end of the stick. Give them what they want – think computer games and TV – and there’s the incessant fear that their studies will suffer. Make them do what you want – enrichment classes –  and there’s the worry that they might develop an aversion to lessons.

In that respect, the performing arts is like a happy medium: the various art forms help your child develop in a huge range of ways while also being incredibly fun – and often for the entire family. 

Here are some reasons why:

It puts them in a “yes” environment for a change: It builds their confidence

Founder of Act 3 Theatrics, R Chandran, who runs education and literacy courses for kids using writing and drama, says he creates a positive environment where kids can “get ideas out of their head, without worrying about spelling or grammar, and they lose their inhibitions, and begin to come up with ideas that are original. I love seeing the spark in their eyes when they do things, and they really grow as a result”.

It’s a great place to meet other kids and pick up social skills.

Gayathri Naidu of Gayathri’s School of Indian Dance, teaches Bharatanatyam dance to children of all ages. She says when they’re learning art forms in groups, kids “have no choice but to interact with other children. They learn teamwork and start taking on responsibilities without being told. All of them cultivate leadership skills, and have no hesitation in expressing and enquiring about anything.”

It gets their minds and bodies working!

Brian Seward of I Theatre, a children’s theatre group, says kids’s theatre, with its colourful puppets and simple but magical storytelling “stretches the imagination, challenges, surprises and entertains. These things are what theatre does best. You don’t need high tech – just a little imagination!” And it’s all enhanced if you get kids performing onstage. “In performance, you see things through the eyes of others, you have the chance to explore other worlds and other characters.”

It gives them a healthy dose of tradition.

Kids today are seldom interested in anything that pre-dates computers. One way to get them intrigued is to expose them to traditional performing arts. Groups like Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society and its performing wing, Bhaskar’s Arts Academy actively train children in traditional Indian music and dance. One of its founding artists, Santha Bhaskar, says many parents who enrol their children in these classes want their children to learn more about their roots and heritage. “It helps them realise their identity. It’s important to know the great wealth of values passed on from generation to generation.” Traditional art forms may seem too culturally specific and old-fashioned, but many of these art-forms do strive to keep it fresh for audiences and students.

Gayathri feels that Bharatanatyam’s teaching methods and performance styles have “become very contemporary and adaptable,” and that she welcomes children from all walks of life, regardless of ethnic and cultural background.

IT’S A SMALL WORLD

The magic of puppets in children’s theatre

Chances are you’ve seen Paul Pistore’s puppets before. An acclaimed puppeteer and puppet-maker, he has built puppets for television and Hollywood (Batman Returns and Men in Black 2). But his creations have also graced the stage of children’s theatre in Singapore. He worked with I Theatre for four years on a variety of shows, including The Wizard of Oz (2008).

Art imitates life

“Virtually every animal I’ve ever built has involved a trip to the zoo, or at the very least, a Discovery Channel TV marathon. On Batman Returns, we had live penguins performing as well as our puppets. We were encouraged to bond with them and observe them.”

Puppets are hard to make

“A puppet takes anywhere from two weeks to a month to build. The steps vary widely, as do the materials and techniques. Each puppet has its own challenges. Puppetry isn’t easy too! I’ve personally trained dozens of actors to be puppeteers; some are naturals, some pick it up more slowly, some just never quite ‘get it’. Puppetry is a strange profession and talent.”

It’s all about the illusion

“In theatrical puppetry, we’re allowing the audience to see a bit of how we do it. Stage puppetry is about bringing the audience along, as willing participants in the illusion.”

Paul Pistore’s intricately-crafted puppets can only come to life with skilled puppetry. Each one takes anywhere from two weeks to a month to make. (Photos courtesy of Paul Pistore and I Theatre)

NO KIDDING AROUND

Listen up, mum and dad!

If you’ve never brought your kid to the theatre before, here are some do’s and don’ts from Act 3 Theatrics’ R Chandran and I Theatre’s Brian Seward.

DO:

Engage your kids Chandran: “After the show, always talk to them about what they saw and about what they learnt.”

Check the age advisories Seward: “Check the age range on the flyers and posters. If a show says ‘For ages two and up’, it might be a bit too simple for your eight-year-old, but if it says ‘Suitable for four and above’, your three-year-old might get a bit lost or feel a bit scared. Make sure the age of your child is well within the recommended age range.

Expose them young Chandran: “Start them young. The younger they are, the better they can get used to the theatre. Always start them off in a friendly environment as they can be apprehensive at first.”

DON’T:

Sit in the front row Seward: “Seeing a performer for the first time, only a couple of metres away in full costume and makeup, can be a bit overwhelming. A bit further back, and the sound will be less intimidating, the spectacle will be more clearly seen, and the distance will make your young one feel safer.”

Misbehave Seward: “Theatre is ‘live’! The actors can hear and see the audience, and they can interact. But you need to be careful and only interact when it is appropriate. A child will often want to interact, so make sure that they know how to behave.”

Be passive  Chandran: “Don’t just put your kids there. Participate! Watch yourself with them, and join in the fun!”

I Theatre specialises in thought-provoking and high-energy musical theatre for kids. (Photos courtesy of I Theatre)

MAKE SOME NOISE!

At children’s shows, kids get to make as much noise as they want.

In fact, interaction isn’t just encouraged, it’s compulsory. Peter Moore, conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s Young Children’s Concert series Babies’ Proms, says that “everyone can make as much noise as they like — there’s no sitting still! In ‘Babies’ Proms’ everyone has to move, jump, march and clap. There is the spectacle of the full symphony orchestra, there is colour, all the different instruments and great exciting music which never plays for too long. Children are the centre of the concert.”

Catch I Theatre’s Hop and Honk: The Ugly Duckling and the Frog Prince, written and directed by Brian Seward. It runs from 29 Oct – 15 Nov at the Drama Centre.

Costumes and make-up are half of the magic in kid’s theatre. Stay away from the front row to keep the illusion alive!

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