Monica's House. Monica Trapaga, with Penny Flanagan.Script: Monica Trapaga. Music: Julian Gough, Dave Basten. Sound: Daniele Digiovanni. Stage Manager: Katrina Thomas. Tuggeranong Valley Rugby Union Club 10.00 am May 7 and Canberra Labor Club 10.00 am May 8, 1996. Professional.
Monica's House is a wonderful surprise - not for the littlies who all know what to do when Monica asks; and not for the parents who know they can trust their children in Monica's capable hands - but for me to see such creative, original, educational drama happening so naturally in a club setting. More strength to the clubs if they bring in shows of this quality for members and their children.
Tuggeranong waylaid the performers with some technical problems, but the professional team found solutions without missing a beat. In fact music, rhythm and movement are the core of Monica's presentation. This is not only the Monica of ABC TV's Playschool, but also of the erstwhile band Monica and the Moochers and now of Monica's Brazilian Spectacular band based in Sydney.
A bewildering variety of style in music and drama from a person who was born in Australia of Spanish and American parents from the Philippines - both theatre professionals - and whose grandparents were performers in Spain, comes as no surprise. Monica never trained at NIDA - she has just worked on stage since her schooldays. There is a delightful loving spontaneous empathy in her show which everyone from cradle age responds to. If you've read this far you'll know to seek out Monica's House.
But there is much more to Monica Trapaga than the friend the children see. Here we go for some excellent theory about education and drama - an Education Perspective on the Arts and Entertainment page. As she demonstrates, performing is a "loving experience" - a two-way communication between the actor and her audience. As a band singer she is always conscious of this theatrical relationship, inviting her adult audience to participate just as she invites the children to sing with her, dance with her, mime with her and help her solve problems. It is this focus, so natural for her, that has made her one of the longstanding Playschool performers.
Yet she finds the Playschool approach, which particularly emphasises the children being made to distinguish very definitely between fiction and fact, a limitation of imagination. In her show, she slowly eases the children, after the fiction is complete when everyone sings Happy Birthday to McKaw, out of the dramatic frame (with a re-run of the clapping song) and an announcement that their time together is almost at an end, towards the "reality" frame. Monica comes off stage at this point and receives the children (this takes nearly as long as the show), signing their posters and tee-shirts and simply being their personal friend. In doing so, she leaves a certain fuzzy quality about that line between fiction and fact, which some would question.
But the 3 year old next to me had turned to her mother when the clapping song finished, saying "Mummy, we have to go home now." She knew exactly when the dramatic frame was shifted to reality. And she waited patiently for more than half an hour to talk to Monica before she and her mummy went home. Monica told me of children like the 10 year old boy, well past Playschool watching age, who waited after a show to say how much he wanted to meet her. This was not adulation of the actor; just wanting to say hallo to a friend.
So Monica Trapaga is a crossing-point between television and drama. Television creates the image of her, but it is live drama where the connection with reality is made.
Monica saw Sesame Street as an important influence on her work, but I observed that her script, like the Playschool scripts, ask for focussed attention as each short-attention-span segment is linked into theme and plot. The essential theatrical form used is absurd drama, which enables the children's imaginations to be turned from mental problem solving (what are we going to do without carrots when McKaw wants us to make a carrot cake) to physical exercise (the running song, which will take us to the shops) to imaginary miming (because we are tired we'll go the beach and go surfing). Absurdism is not used with the pessimism of Ionesco, of course, but with the elan of the Italian Commedia dell'Arte. Whereas the logicality of Sesame Street is undermined by the short-attention-span advertising format which reflects a society built on a commercial ideology, Monica's absurdism is a non-preaching, non-judgemental form which celebrates love, empathy and imagination.
Monica Trapaga sees herself as a world citizen coming from an Australia where people accept different cultures more readily than in other places. I found her inspiring, a figure of hope for the future in which we all need to become citizens of the world.
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