Good children’s theatre is like an “empathy gym” for kids. Ian Loy of MySuperFuture Theatrical Productions explains why.
INTERVIEW BY JO TAN
Published on 9 May 2016
INTERVIEW BY JO TAN
I didn’t start off intending to do children’s theatre. I was involved with experimental theatre as an apprentice with the Asia-in-Theatre Research Centre, but after National Service, I didn’t know how to get back in the scene.
Somehow, I got in touch with Natalie Hennedige from Cake Theatrical Productions. We created this theatrical work with students, and that led to the Esplanade calling me to try directing immersive, interactive theatre for their PLAYtime! series, designed for ages two to four. I created this very sensory piece called The Magic Ocean and was amazed at the powerful response from the kids. That’s when it became my personal mission to develop theatre for children of specialised age groups.
If a production just tries to catch audiences from ages zero to 12, many things will be lost. If we can target ages, say, zero to two or nine to 12, you can really inspire these groups. There’s a lot of focus now on raising children who are not just book-smart, but all-rounded. Good, targeted theatre is an important part of that — it’s an empathy gym for kids to exercise understanding other people when they watch and interact with different characters. It also helps them to express and understand their emotions.
Age-specific theatre requires an incubation process. You need to document and archive children’s reactions, so you can keep developing your work. My son Jude was about a year old when I first started with Magic Ocean, and I also interacted a lot with the children in my church. I observed the things that age group is attracted to, and the things that help them form connections and understand the world — they’re not always the same. If something is too fun, they forget the big picture. I keep a journal about these observations, and I also travelled to watch children’s theatre and read about children’s cognitive needs. More recently, I’ve also been taking my kids to rehearsals, not just for feedback on the content, but to tell my actors, “Tell the story of the show to Jude. Do you think he is interested in what you are saying? Why, or why not?” This is to make sure the performers interact in an organic way with the children instead of just ‘performing’.
Now, after presenting a PLAYtime! Production, my next phase of work is to take part of the show to playschools and nurseries, and see how the kids there respond and how the work can develop. They get a show and I get incubation for my future work.
Honestly, I wasn’t always sure I was on the right track with all this. So it was real affirmation to receive the Young Artist Award in 2014, but also an added responsibility to keep improving. At the end of this year, I’ll be using my Young Artist Award grant to develop a touring theatre for pre-schools and nurseries. Productions can maximise impact with small audiences. So I thought, why not go to the preschools and use their space? When I travel, I notice our European counterparts have spaces to do creative programmes and workshops with children as a sort of daycare. It’s a goldmine for incubation of good work, and hopefully, this can be something like that.
IAN LOY has been part of the theatre industry as a performer, director and playwright since 1999. He graduated from LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts in 2002 and was a recipient of the Georgette Chen Arts Scholarship, awarded by the National Arts Council (NAC). MySuperFuture Theatrical Productions, which Loy founded in 2009, is involved in community outreach and theatre projects with various institutions and people of all ages, coaching or creating theatre art for them. Ian has partnered PLAYtime! (Esplanade) to create theatre for young audiences. He received the NAC Young Artist Award in 2014.