A Week at the Kids’ Theatre – From Low to High to Low Again

This week I have had the fortune to be able to have the children in the cave and it is often a week filled with a variety of activities.  This week has been no exception, with a range of things that probably symbolise the contemporary cultural life of children.

There is a Wii sitting next the television in the lounge room, which hasn’t had a huge amount of use this week – we didn’t even get through a level of Super Mario Brothers (the stereotyping in that game!  but let’s not go there).  However, it is interesting to see the amount of teamwork and togetherness (as well as the sibling arguments) made possible by Wii games – I think that is the reason for that platform’s success.  I remember when I bought a remote control for me to use, to be able to join in the games, it was received with great excitement.  It is family fun that is achievable in apartments.

The week started with a trip to the beach with a school friend of mine whose children have been sheltered a little more than the two who like to rip into the surf.  It struck me as curious that there are children that have greater trepidation than children for whom I have been a father.  It made me feel almost outdoorsy and truly “Aussie” for a second.  A second.

The next day featured a visit to Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 – “The Squeakquel”. And squeaking it was.  It hurt the eardrums, having 6 high pitched characters talking nonsense.  It hurt the intelligence more, though, to see perfectly reasonable actors like David Cross, Wendie Malick and Jason Lee make themselves look completely exaggerated and stupid.  It was, without peer, the dumbest kid’s film I have seen.  People may wish to throw in titles like “Hannah Montana” but at least, from accounts (I have, fortunately, not seen it or the High School Musical films), it did have an interesting concept of a public and a private persona dichotomy.  However,  I digress.  The children loved it, laughing throughout – especially my son, who, when he really likes something, his whole body moves about in shivering joy.

The next day we went to the theatre adaptation of Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival”.  This was a more risky cultural experience, in that the children haven’t seen live theatre before.  In addition, this play was virtually wordless and whatever words were spoken helped to emphasise the alienation of the Arrival.  It didn’t help that I’d bought front row seats at Carriageworks, but was not told that from the third seat along, there was a huge curtain blocking the view of the audience.  So, my daughter sat on my lap during the show, which was nice.

The play was a hit with the kids, partially because of the humorous elements played up in the production as well as the scary dragon parts.  It was very interesting, however, because I asked both of my children about the show.  P, my autistic son, liked the funny animals and the scary parts – but didn’t really comment on anything else.  However, as I was watching it and saw him getting engrossed, I realised that the experience of The Arrival is very similar to that of autistic children with their world – a confusing world with symbols that are difficult to understand.   So, I got a little bit more of an insight into his world from seeing that play.

For B, the inquisitive daughter, she really wanted me to buy the book (which was on sale at the venue).  She told me that she didn’t understand the play, but was interested.  After reading the book, however, she understood what was going on in both – hence underscoring a possible need for 7 year olds to see both the play and read the book to gain a richer understanding of both.  I must admit to being in that category too – the play certainly enriched my interest and now love for the book.

The next day, we saw The Princess and the Frog, which is an animated film that has only amassed half of the theatre gross of that awful pile of chipmunk droppings.  However, it is an immensely superior film in every way.  It doesn’t patronise its audience nor does it lazily, cynically cash in on a silly idea.  It is clearly a film that took an amout of research, plotting and development to shine it into a romantic, beautiful encapsulation of the New Orleans cultural milieu.  There’s probably critics who have sharpened their knives about the cultural representations of the various cultural monoglossias present in the New Orleans area, however, it is an enjoyable sketch of those mysterious traditions that society associates with Louisiana.  It is also a sensitive, finely honed comedy from the Disney tradition.  It is also highly romantic, which makes it ideal for parents to watch with their children -rather than getting the parents in through lazy pop culture references (delivered artfully in Shrek but now flogged until it’s dead), it gets us involved through story and Randy Newman’s expertly crafted music.  His exploration of Louisiana music is fantastic.

I asked the kids which film they preferred – B was neutral, P was definite – The Princess and the Frog was both funny and spooky and hence better.

The last cultural tradition with which we were interacting was the old fashioned pantomime – Alice in Wonderland.  It’s a bit of a cultural shock to have something so old-school English still existing.  Its mix of 4th-wall breaking, audience participation fun, over-the-top acting, contemporary music and simplistic storylines still works – even for the film-viewing, Nintendo playing audience.   Mind you, it helps that there has been (and will be soon) an Alice in Wonderland adaptation for the screen and that at one stage, kids were playing with their Nintendo DS machines.

Panto is more a community – sharing cultural activity than the other ones – you can eat, drink and talk during pantos (well, talk to a limited extent) and it’s all more laid back.  It also gives lots of local talented and not-so-talented performers a chance to strut their stuff, unlike the film or the imported New Zealand play.  So, I’m very glad they have survived and keep on keeping on – even if the audience and performers are almost exclusively Anglo – Celtic.

The kids may well forget what went on this week and I’m going to be spending a while clawing back my financial losses from the week 🙂  However, it has been very rewarding and fun.

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