Remember my horrible puppet-show-at-the-library experience? In short, it was the most age-inappropriate, completely un-thought through children’s show I’ve ever seen. (Well, Staci and I saw one with a raccoon that was pretty bad.)
Last week I saw something that was THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE. I was invited to the Theatre for the Very Young at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. And it was THE most age-appropriate, totally thought-through amazing and inspiring children’s show I’ve ever seen! And I’ve worked with kids my entire life. I have, in fact, been a children’s performer!
I honestly didn’t have very high expectations. I mean, “Theatre for the Very Young” sounds great but I was afraid it would be like a highly trained actors’ version of a Mother Goose rhyme or something.
We walked into a black box theatre and were greeted at the door by an actor handing out small seed bags to the grown ups and a seed and a word (like on a tiny piece of paper) to each child. Inside were 3 more actors: 1 playing a mandolin and the others leading the kids in planting their seeds and words into flower pots!
The show was called A Child’s Garden of Verses based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry. So, there wasn’t a huge storyline. More of the adventures of the 4 actors in the garden. There was a grumpy gardener, a silly little boy, a girl with a bird puppet and the musical man. They showed us their garden–the apples, the fall leaves, the bird’s eggs and more. And with each new “scene” there was a new activity.
Yes. Like something ACTIVE. The kids were invited on the stage to play with egg shakers, to eat apple slices, to throw leaves in the air, to play with water and bubbles. Nothing elaborate or with special effects. Just fun, hands-on activities.
Normally, I would HATE something like this. I detest the whole idea that kids should be able to do whatever-they-want-whenever-they-want. I’m all about creativity and exploration. But I’m also all about kids not running wild. Somehow they managed to control the kids while letting them explore. The kids were obedient when they were told to sit down or move around. They didn’t have to call for volunteers or do a whole “Now everyone stand up and get in a line!”. The kids were just immersed in the story and did as the play led them.
In the end, the seeds and words the kids planted at the beginning grew into a flower and poem for the kids to take home. It was a perfect ending to a perfect show.
I was so inspired I immediately wanted to know who came up with this, who wrote it and who those actors were that could calmly and easily work with a room full of under 5 year olds!
Apparently, “theatre for the very young” is not a new term. It’s been highly popular in Europe for over 20 years. It was brought to the Woodruff Arts Center a year ago and this show was developed with just a few people–the playwright, the theatre-for-the-very-young expert and the actors. Do you know how much I want to sit on one of their creative meetings or rehearsals?!
When people are developing programming for kids, many times they think adding bathroom humor, silly noises, wiggling, jumping, screaming, dumb jokes or crazy characters is automatically age-appropriate. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. For preschoolers, age-appropriate means exploration and sensory activities in a comfortable and controlled environment. This is exactly what Theatre for the Very Young was.
If you live in Atlanta, you MUST visit the Woodruff Arts Center with your preschooler (this is for kids up to 5 years old) to see A Child’s Garden of Verses. It’s playing through September 24 (that’s only one more week!). In March, a new show will be playing called A Tranquil Tortise and a Hoppity Hare. I cannot wait to see it!
Honestly, if you are in Atlanta, I think you should take off work, pull your kid out of preschool and head over to the Woodruff Arts Center on Thursday (or any day really!). You and your preschooler will absolutely love it!
Disclosure: I was invited as a blogger to attend the show and see all that the Woodruff Arts Center has to offer on Target Family Thursdays. The event was already free and I’m sharing this because IT WAS AWESOME.