I love to see large crowds of children excited about the theatre, as I saw at Hansel and Gretel playing as part of the Atlantic Fringe Festival and I wish that there were more offerings for children throughout the Fringe here because theatre for young audiences is so important and our children deserve to have quality theatre available to them.
During Eastern Front Theatre’sSuperNova Festival there was a panel discussion that I attended all about theatre for young people and how difficult it can be (and yet how essential) to create theatre for young audiences that plays to their sensibilities but that does not underestimate their sensitivity, intuitiveness or their intelligence. Often writing a successful play for children as an adult is more difficult than writing for audiences our own age.
Typically when I am in a room filled with children at the theatre I like to watch their responses to the play carefully as it gives me a better gauge of the effectiveness of the piece. The children at Hansel and Gretel were beautifully well behaved and listened very well but they were very quiet and subdued throughout, which mirrored my experience of the play as well. It was easy enough to follow along with the story but there was nothing to get particularly excited about.
Hansel and Gretel is an interesting fairy tale because even in its original version it is Gretel who saves her brother from being eaten by the witch. I wondered then why, in 2012, Carolyn Thomas and Zara Tufts, two female playwrights, would decide to gender this story so archaically. Emily Pettet’s Gretel is characterized as being consistently both hungry and dumb, while Hansel is bright and clever. He is genuinely shocked when she is able to be cunning enough to spring him from his cage. If we are hoping to teach children about gender equality it is far more effective to set it up as the norm rather than the exception. There should be no question that a little girl can save her brother from a witch unless we are presenting a play to Mitt Romney.
I think that Thomas and Tufts have some strong potential for creating work for young audiences but I would encourage them to take far more risks with their work and to think of the iconic young characters from the children’s literature cannon: Matilda Wormwood, Peter Pan, Harry Potter, Lucy Pevensie, Dorothy Gale, James Henry Trotter, they are all very clever, imaginative, unique and extraordinary children as I believe all children are in their own way. Children gravitate towards these characters because they are interesting, exciting, inspiring, but also, I think, because they see themselves reflected in them and the potential for who they can grow to be. I would encourage Tufts and Thomas to let their imaginations roam farther and rather than trying to pander to what they think children should be sure to like, to do good by the inner child in themselves instead.
Hansel and Gretel plays at the DanSpace (1531 Grafton Street) at the following times:
Thursday September 6th at 5:30pm
Friday September 7th at 5:30pm
Saturday September 8th at 4:20pm
Sunday September 9th at 12:00pm
It is $5.00; to book tickets please visit this website or call (902) 999-7469 or visit the Box Office at the Seaport Farmers’ Market at Pavilion 20 on Marginal Road. Tickets are also available at the venue A HALF HOUR before the show. Happy Fringe!