What does it take to make theatre for babies? What would even go into a theatre show for babies? Producers SG finds out through a chat with Producing Clinic (August’18) alumni, theatre collective The Wanderlings about their work, You Can Reach The Sky, which ran for a week last December at The Artground in Goodman Arts Centre.
What was your inspiration for You Can Reach The Sky?
We wanted to make a work for babies, because we love them. They’re pure, untainted, free of judgment, and we wanted that energy to be in a work. The starting point of the production was inspired by Ellison’s family. Her now nephew, Kieran (who is also the first poster boy!) is a rainbow baby, which is a baby born after a miscarriage.
From that experience Ellison saw the anxiety her sister was facing, further intensified because of previous experiences, and so the work’s starting point was borne out of endless observations at how her family interacts with Kieran—her mum engaged him with upcycled household items, Kieran always shrieking, excited whenever something flew over his head, but would never stop trying to reach for it etc etc… That eventually became the core of the show—a piece where babies would be engaged, mummies would feel safe, and everyone would feel hopeful.
How would you define baby theatre?
Baby theatre is theatre that is created for babies, with babies in mind, that babies, and in turn parents and carers, can feel safe to engage in.
Were there certain aspects of your artistic vision that you had to forego to make the production work on a practical level?
The show was meant to be lo-fi in the first place, so we could not have super bright lights, because the babies’ eyes would be too sensitive, or super sleek sets out of safety concerns; so, artistically, it is what it is. We are very happy with where it is now but we are also certain that it can continue to develop.
What drove the formation of The Wanderlings?
After You Can Reach The Sky, we knew we wanted to continue growing the production, but more importantly, we wanted to continue growing baby theatre in Singapore. We knew we needed advice from someone who had institutional experience, someone who knew the know-hows of building a brand, of charting a clear path moving forward for something so new, and so it was a really opportune time in our journey that we met Tay Tong during the Producing Clinic.
One of the questions we put forth to him was “How can we better represent ourselves to the industry and to the public?” and the first suggestion that Tay Tong gave was to form a collective. His reasons for that was because having an organisational name, whatever it may be, would allow people to associate with it as a “brand”, and we guess it is true.
Society has been conditioned to the extent where people would put more faith in an organisation, than a person. It’s already evident from some of the funding bodies out there, who only give funding to registered companies. We were not ready to take the plunge to become a registered company yet, so we started with committing ourselves to forming a collective first, and that was how The Wanderlings came about.
Were there any audience responses that surprised you, be it from the babies or from the parents?
Every show is a surprise, but always a good one—I think that’s the beauty of baby theatre.
What was the biggest challenge you faced with producing the work?
I think time and money would always be the biggest challenge for anything producing artist. Right from the get go, we were adamant about paying the creatives a reasonable rate, because this was also our responsibility as industry professionals. We cannot, and will not compromise on that, because we knew if we fell into that, we are basically setting a precedent for future theatre-makers.
And so with the challenge of time and money, we had to constantly be on the lookout for funding opportunities, which means a lot of our time was spent on writing funding applications, pulling in resources, writing post-show reports—you know the drill. All the time spent doing that could have very well been spent developing ourselves as artists doing this work, but it was a choice we made and we do not regret that.
…and conversely, what was the easiest part?
The performance! We believe that babies have very sharp senses, and we believe (or rather, we hope) that we were very sincere and open during the performance, such that babies and parents/carers feel safe and comfortable with us. So, despite all the challenges, the easiest part, we guess, was letting the performance speak for itself, and allowing our audience feel our sincerity.
Drawing from this experience, is there anything you would change about staging You Can Reach the Sky for future productions?
There will always be room for improvement, so artistically there will always be things we hope to change. When it comes to You Can Reach The Sky, I think one of the things that we would have liked to be more certain about was how we engaged our stakeholders. There was some hesitation when we first produced You Can Reach The Sky, as Baby Theatre was an unknown and new genre in Singapore.
As we spoke with more stakeholders, it became clear to us that we should have taken more time and space to explain what Baby Theatre is / what it is to us, and to clearly define what You Can Reach The Sky, or an immersive theatrical experience for babies / toddlers is about.
Drawing from the two-year experience of staging this production, we are still learning how to define Baby Theatre for ourselves and for others. This is important to us as it helps people to understand the work on a deeper level.
What is one big takeaway from this experience?
That there is always a bigger picture!
Tay Tong helped us see that during the Producing Clinic, and during the production of You Can Reach The Sky, our audience members helped us see it. The bigger the picture we get, the more clarity we have, and this helps us as artists to distill the essence of what the work is about.
What is next for The Wanderlings?
We are collaborating with an Australian puppeteer and movement director, Yvan Karlsson for a table-top puppetry performance called Tape Tape World. It is based on the concept of a problem-solving child and how children between ages 7 and 12 years old navigate and cope with destabilisation in their lives.
This production is also in collaboration with Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre (AMKFSC), because we hope to create this production with material that we want to generate with the children of Cheng San Family Service Centre, a branch of AMKFSC. The workshop and rehearsal phase of this will be in June this year, but we’ve already been working on it since last November.
In fact, the idea for this performance started when Ellison was in Tokyo for the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People (ASSITEJ)’s Next Generation Program in February 2018.
This piece is very different from You Can Reach The Sky, but it is what The Wanderlings is about; we want to create pieces that navigates the journey of growing up and Tape Tape World seems to fit into the journey of many Singaporean children.
Interview by Alfonse Chiu
Find out more about The Wanderlings and follow them on their journey by liking their Facebook page here.