I don’t know if you’ve ever had to spend an entire day in a concrete metropolis with a baby. It goes a little something like this:
Parent: What a lovely day. I can’t wait to go downtown. Wait. Which TTC station has elevators again? Oh, it’s out of service? Okay, will someone please help me onto this streetcar? And now off. Oh, and now on again. And, yeah, off again. Sorry. Thanks. Sorry. Why am I saying sorry?! (Sorry.)
Baby: I’m pooping.
Parent: Okay. Change tables? Anyone? Better skip the coffee shop with the good coffee and just go to Starbucks. Okay, all clean. Here we are. At the theatre. Fresh as a daisy and ready to see some art!
I illustrate this to remind you of the state many parents are in when they arrive at their destination. This city can be very daunting when you’re traveling with human cargo. Which is why, lamentably, many people stay indoors. But for those of us who like to venture out, we are so appreciative of the institutions that go the extra mile to create a safe and comfortable space for children and their caregivers. And creating a safe space goes far beyond having stroller parking or being pro-nursing.
What I’ve been impressed with at the WeeFestival is how every artist, staff member and volunteer is working in tandem to create a calm, comfortable, nurturing environment for kids. They are creating fertile ground for everyone to have a deep, meaningful artistic connection. And I don’t think I was expecting to have such a profound connection to the art – being a few decades older than their target audience. But some of the shows I’m seeing could very likely make it onto my “best of” list for the year.
Here are some standout experiences I’ve had in the last 24 hours:
This is exactly what it sounds like: a magical space where kids and their caregivers can go to relax between shows, located inside the Theatre Centre’s Incubator space. While you’re there you can play with some adorable stuffed foliage, read about children’s rights or talk to other kids. Designed by Andy Miller and inspired by the WeeFestival artwork created by Kinnon Elliot, the Wondergarden will feature storytelling and music throughout the festival. What a great way to shake off that noisy city before you enter the world of a play.
Under A Different Light:
I’m pretty sure I had a smile on my face the entire way through this performance. I attended an evening show, as part of the official opening night celebrations. Instead of kids in the audience, there were a bunch of grownups. After the customary toasts, the grownups filed into the theatre and when the lights went down, something magical happened. It’s like we were all 6-years-old once again. I could tell from the gasps and laughter that my colleagues were just as mesmerized as I was. And for good reason. The artists, Giada Ciccolini and Luciano Cendou from La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi, Italy, held our attention from the very moment they walked on stage. They both had such a lovely sense of lightness and play. And they also had a secret, a glint in their eyes: we are going to take you somewhere very special.
The show opened gently, with the introduction of their first element: fire. As they moved in the space with candles balanced on body parts, they took us deeper into this investigation of light. Over the course of the show, they wove a delightful web of images from light-bulbs, desk lamps, interstellar projections, beams of light, cascading waterfalls, and glinting wine glasses. Every new item was introduced to us as if the human eye had never before witnessed it. They were helping us to see the beauty in the banal – the way a plastic spray bottle can create an impressionist painting in the air if sprayed into beams of light; the way a simple red lightbulb can become a beating heart. This was a doubly joyful experience for me. First, I was grateful to share in the work. And second, I was thinking of all the kids who will learn so much from this piece. They will learn that beauty can be found anywhere, that a desk lamp can become your friend, and that water and light are transformative. I can picture them bringing this sense of wonder back into their own bedrooms, sneaking away to play with a box of mom and dad’s Christmas lights tucked under their arm.
Nest was the first age-appropriate play I’ve gone to with my 1-year-old son, Elliot. He’s been to children’s theatre for older kids, and he usually does well. But this was something new. Built for kids 6 months to 3 years, Nest is from Theater de Spiegel in Belgium. The room full of toddlers snapped to attention as soon as the two performers began – all it took was a swift and purposeful walk across the stage. And trembling, vibrato-filled song (something between new-age opera and a Guy Maddin film score) held the attention of the kids. Even the youngest ones were transfixed. Every time it seemed like Elliot’s attention was about to shift, a violin would be plucked out of a tree above the stage and would fill the small space with music. The performers introduced a variety of textures to the playing space: shining green fabric, wings made of straw, birds made of wood, wicker costume pieces. And in the centre of the space was a shallow wooden nest, around which the kids sat in a circle. The pacing of the show, combined with the variety of sounds, textures and characters allowed the babies to focus and follow the action. At the end, the kids were invited up on stage to sit in the nest or play the violin. Elliot was in heaven!