Reading Snugglepot and Cuddlepie to my 9 months old grandson, surely too young for such dramatic emotions, I experienced an important revelation. He looks at the pictures and even the words in the usual baby books, but instead I found him watching me, especially my facial expressions, as the gumnut babies became lost and then found each other again.
When Patch Theatre brings Who Sank the Boat? to the Playhouse at Canberra Theatre Centre, their production of Pamela Allen’s popular children’s story has extensive research behind it which shows the absolute importance of emotional interaction for a child’s health and well-being. Artistic director Dave Brown’s career began as a teacher in South Australia, where drama and, indeed, all the arts have had a high profile in schools since the 1980s.
Brown, working within the SA Department of Education during the first flush of enthusiasm (the “golden years”, he says), established Jumbuk, a youth musical theatre where he worked with “exemplary young talent” from around the state to put on one major production each year in The Space in Adelaide. During the 1990s support waned somewhat, but by 2000 a resurgence of arts in education was under way at the same time as Brown felt he needed a new beginning ? to find something “worthwhile to do with the rest of my life”. He believes a swing towards the positive still means working “against the notion of credibility” of drama, which for him is central to children’s learning, never mere entertainment.
At this time he began reading, to discover first the idea that two thirds of a person’s development takes place in our first 8 years, and that artists have a special place in human development. He quotes Pablo Picasso: “All children are artists; the challenge is to keep them so.” And so Patch Theatre concentrates on 4 to 8 year-olds, and brings together performing artists, children and teachers, not just in theatres but in a Play Package Group Development program.
We will see on stage, as part of a major national tour funded by Playing Australia, a show which will “entertain children of all ages as they investigate the culprit of the dastardly crime” in Who Sank the Boat?, incorporating characters from this and several other Pamela Allen books (“the best ones,” says Brown) ? Mr McGee Goes to Sea, My Cat Maisie, Black Dog, The Bear’s Lunch, The Pear and Pear Tree, Herbert and Harry, and Bertie the Bear. But behind the scenes is a group of some 15 preschool, primary school and special school teachers who work monthly with Patch performers, workshop leaders and other artists on the most recent play package program, called Special Delivery, funded by the SA Health Promotion through the Arts Community Arts Fund.
This work goes on at a very unusual educational venue. Sturt Street Community School in Adelaide, re-opened by the Labor Government 2 years ago after previously being closed by a Coalition Government because of small numbers, takes children from ages 0 to 8. Brown has been testing out the way drama works not only with children in his 4 to 8 range, but with some as young as 15 months. For teachers and parents who would like to follow up this work, Patch Theatre has produced a 24 page Special Delivery Play Package, which uses the illustrated book In the Middle of the Night by Amanda Graham as source material and includes a set of “Foundation” games and rituals and “Special Delivery” games and rituals, which focus very much on the children learning to take care when handling the “Fragile Box”.
Brown explains that when very young children are prepared through drama activities, they “process the stage show in a more sophisticated way” than children who have not had preparation. Even though this can’t be done for Who Sank the Boat? on tour, he recommends that animated reading of Pamela Allen’s books with the children before they see the show will greatly enhance their theatre experience. Let the children “workshop” their own games and dramas based on the stories, and they will appreciate even more Patch Theatre’s “inventive theatrics incorporating puppetry, black theatre, operetta, mime, dance and live music”. And, I suspect, will parents and teachers.
Who Sank the Boat?
Based on this and other books by Pamela Allen.
Patch Theatre at The Playhouse
Public Performances: Wednesday July 5 at 6.30pm, Saturday July 8 at 10am (Audio Described) and 11.45am (Live Captioned)
Schools Peformances: July 6 and 7 at 10am and 11.45am
Bookings: Phone: Canberra Ticketing 6275 2700 or www.canberraticketing.com.au
For follow-up: www.patchtheatre.org.au
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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