This, however, turned out to be more than just that, in fact, it has been a serendipitous occasion of the first degree.
To date, teaming up with my lovely wife, Myriam, we have produced three bedtime stories and four songs for kids. And I have to say that we are discovering great joy and fulfillment in creating material as well as acting and singing for kids. The response has been quite positive, so we are planning a steady stream of such videos.
The stories, so far, include Rudyard Kipling’s How the Camel Got His Hump, Aesop’s The North Wind and the Sun, and a story called Tearful. The songs include Staying Home, Five Fingers, the Jiggly Song, and The Little Red Hen. We are adding to this weekly, so feel free to join us on Facebook at Theatrix Group or see them on YouTube on the channel ‘Just So, Mr. Joel’.
However, the main thing this experience has rekindled in me is the love for and wonder in the vitality of children’s theatre, by and large a relatively new theatrical art form. The earliest mention we have in history of theatre created and performed for children is from 1784; from that time till the 20th century children’s theatre basically took the same form as adult theatre with the added ingredient of moral and educational lessons that adults deemed important for children.
There were no plays until 1904 that attempted to give children the kind of theatre that would truly appeal to them as a unique and special audience. Something happened that year that went on to spawn many wonderful children’s theatrical writers.
That wonderful event was the result of a chance and serendipitous encounter. The Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie, while walking his Saint Bernard dog in Kensington Park in London, met the Llewellyn Davies family and befriended the children, entertaining them with his ability to wiggle his ears and eyebrows and his wild, imaginative stories. They became fast and constant friends and companions, and slowly out of the friendship and the story-telling emerged the character of Peter Pan who became the hero of Barrie’s play, Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, premiered in December of 1904.
Barrie’s play changed forever what it meant to perform children’s theatre, and many of the elements that modern writers of children’s literature and theatre say are key to capturing the hearts and minds of children were first seen in this ground-breaking play.
Children love magic and fantasy, and of course there’s plenty of that in Peter Pan, from flying children and animals to fairies to the magical world of Neverland. Children love animals, and a Saint Bernard dog was central to the story, a dog that flies yet. Children are great judges of right and wrong, so they relish villains in their stories whom they love to see get their come-uppance. Of course, Captain Hook epitomises one of the earliest, and best-loved, archvillains. Children love comedy and there’s plenty of that in Peter Pan, chiefly in the crocodile that is after Captain Hook, the crocodile that swallowed an alarm clock, the tick tock adding suspense, which children also love. Children love a degree of rebellion and nonconformity and an acknowledgment that they have valid dreams and ideas separate from the adult world that dominates them, and there could not be a character that epitomises that more than Peter Pan himself. Finally, children love to be actually involved in the story themselves, and from its premiere, the play, Peter Pan, incorporated audience participation to bring Tinkerbelle back to life, who was dying because people did not believe in fairies anymore. Peter Pan would beg the audience to believe in fairies really, really hard until Tinkerbelle was restored to life, a feat that could not be achieved without the children’s participation.
Whether he planned it or just stumbled on it, Barrie’s play changed children’s theatre forever. Since then theatre and movies for children have burgeoned with no sign of letting up.
I have done a great deal of children’s theatre over the years, and this newest project has made me think it would be something I would love to do more of. None of us know when this pandemic will end or what the world will be like when we come out of it. A better one, I hope, one where we have learned to take better care of ourselves and the world.
And who knows? Maybe Theatrix will produce more theatre for children when we get back up and running again publicly. It could happen.