Holiday theatre for the Grandkids
by Mildred MacDonald, from Ottawa Forever Young
Well, it's that time of year again when we're wondering how to keep the youngsters (eiither our own or family visitors) entertained over the Christmas holidays.
One intriguing performance that I've come across is the Rag and Bone Puppet Theatre's production of The Tempest.
"A Shakespeare play for youngsters?" you ask. Well, after sitting in on a performance for students in Elgin St. Public School, I can vouch for the fact that the wideeyed kids moved from interest through concern for the plight of the main characters and on to hilarity at the antics of other characters, cheers when Miranda and Ferdinand kiss and delighted applause when they overcome all the plots and intrigues that keep them from marrying.
Ottawa actors, John Nolan and Kathy MacLellan, who have been performing for children in festivals, theatres (you may have seen their other productions at the NAC or GCTC) and schools all across the country ever since they founded Rag and Bone in 1978, know what grabs their young audiences.
As Kathy points out, The Tempest is such a great story for kids because you have your wizard and fairies and monsters and evil doers. It's a fairy tale really."
They have work-shopped the play, "many, many times" in schools, where they give the kids a brief outline of the story and then, the kids make their own puppets and do their own version. After seeing how much fun they had with the plot and poetry of Shakespeare,they decided to create the present production, which they've scaled down from two hours to 45 minutes.
And these puppets are not on strings. They are carried by the two black-garbed actors, who assume a different voice for each character. The advantage of this style of puppetry is that the young audience members don't spend all the time wondering how the puppets are manipulated but instead concentrate on the unfolding story.
In one scene, Kathy draped sheer black fabric over her head to become the mountain that small puppets climb. "It's kind of a peek-a-boo thing. The kids really love that I'm hidden under that fabric. There's a little moment of suspense and I love to make eye contact with them and share that little joke with them."
It's fabric too that creates the most theatrical scene when a courtly procession is created by clothing a towering puppet (a small head on a long pole) with yards and yards of sheer gold fabric that swirls across the stage.
The scene that brought the house down though was a dog chase with musician Russell Levia playing a snippet of background music from Pink Panther. That was probably what one serious-looking youngster was thinking of when he asked in a question-the-performers session at the end, "Did you change this because I can't believe that Shakespeare wrote the silly stuff."
John, the puppet head maker, who acts as Prospero in this Tempest, has a real knack for involving the children as he uses contemporary language to explain his and daughter Miranda's predicament since evil doers cast them away on a desert island. But throughout the play, contemporary speech is mixed with Shakespeare's poetic lines like "Where the bee sucks, there suck I. In a cowslip bell I lie."
Kathy loves to see the kids when they suddenly tune in to Shakespeare. "They're really surprised that we have a little bit of Shakespeare there, actual poetry but it doesn't turn them off. They tune in. It's almost as if they're saying "Whoa, I really have to listen to this."
Rag and Bone Puppet Theatre is presenting The Tempest on December 29 and 30 at 1 and 3 pm. in The School of Dance at 200 Crighton Street (the old Crighton Street School). For tickets ($10) and information, you can call the school at 238-7838.
The Tempest is a 45-minute adaptation of Shakespeare’s most magical masterpiece. It tells the story of Prospero, a wizard marooned on an enchanted island with his daughter, Miranda.
With a mischievous sprite, Ariel, Prospero uses his magic powers to create a storm, a shipwreck, and to play tricks on his enemies—until he learns about the true power of love and forgiveness.
John and Kathy appear on stage as visible, costumed puppeteer/storytellers, working colourful, three-foot-high puppet characters. Russell plays live musical accompaniment, inspired by Dvorak and Satie.
The students were totally engaged. What an outstanding performance and introduction to Shakespeare. (Students were impressed with the) quality of acting (and the) simplicity but effectiveness of set. My own class talked at great length about it afterwards.—Briargreen P.S.
How simple a play can be done with props/background! (Students loved the) interactiveness of stage actors with audience. "Awesome", "really fun", "weird", "loved it". Keep up the good work!—Broadview P.S.
An amazing group! Very professional. Thought we would see just a puppet behind a window. This was a (nice) surprise. (We learned) that material (fabric) can create a stage. Puppets are more than behind a box or on your hand. Stories can be told through puppetry. Background music and sound effects can enhance a show immensely.—St. Joseph's School
Wickedly humourous. A wonderful intro to Shakespeare.—Ottawa teacher
Excellent—music was wonderful. The puppets and costumes were beautiful. Production was professional and extremely enjoyable. Students were very interested—enjoyed the show very much—would love to have you back. Thank you very much.—Britannia P.S., Mississauga
My Grade 3 students' reactions: "Some parts were really funny. I laughed a lot." "The pieces of fabrics were really beautiful." "I liked it when the actors talked to the teachers sitting in the audience and they asked them for their help." —Woodroffe Avenue Elementary School
Great way to introduce Shakespeare to young children. I think the man himself would have loved the idea of converting his plays for children through the use of puppets. Many thanks.—Gateway Public School, Toronto
A beautiful Shakespeare production for kids of all ages! Thank you so much for coming to Faywood. It is such an enriching show!—Faywood Arts Centre, Toronto
To be able to present a performance that engages students from JK to Grade 6 all through the performance and yet with a content that uses more advanced literary contents is very impressive. Curriculum related material sent beforehand was very helpful. A show like this can be used as a reference, during our drama and music lessons (impact of music on emotions, props, scenery, voice changes, gestures). My students LOVED the play!! Some of the comments I heard were ... "I really liked the puppets", "I was a bit scared in parts of it. But I liked the fairy". They really got a kick out of the puppets interacting with some of the teachers/parents.—Woodroffe Avenue Elementary SchoolFor Mildred MacDonald's article about our show, click here
Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That if I had then waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again,and then in dreaming
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.
once upon a time there was a wizard named Prospero, who lived on a magical island with his daughter, Miranda, the monster Caliban, and Ariel, one of many lovely fairies and sprites.
One day, a great ship sailed near the island. Prospero and Ariel used their magic to create a tempest: a thunderstorm with huge waves, high winds and lightning. The ship caught fire. The passengers—the King of Naples, his son Prince Ferdinand and others—all jumped overboard and swam to shore.
On the island, Prince Ferdinand met Miranda. It was love at first sight, but Prospero wanted them to get to know each other before he would let them get engaged. He gave Ferdinand hard work to do, and pretended to be mad at them for liking each other.
Meanwhile, on another part of the island, the King was in danger. His own brother, Sebastian, wanted to get rid of him so that he could be the ruler of Naples. Sebastian’s henchman was Antonio, Prospero’s brother, who had done the same thing to Prospero twelve years ago, when Prospero was Duke of Milan.
Twelve years ago Antonio had put Prospero and Miranda out to sea in a little boat. He had done this so that he could steal Prospero’s power and become Duke of Milan in his place. He hadn’t expected them to survive.
Ariel saved the king from Sebastian and Antonio just in time; then she reported back to Prospero. Prospero needed her help to stop another evil plot: the monster Caliban had convinced Stephano and Trinculo, two foolish servants from the ship, that Stephano could be king of the island—but they have to get rid of Prospero first.
Prospero and Ariel finally brought together all the islanders and ship’s passengers. Prospero was glad to see his old friends from Milan and Naples. He forgave his brother, Antonio, and the others. The King restored Prospero’s former title of Duke of Milan, and they all got back on the ship—which, magically, was still as good as new.
Ariel promised them wind in their sails for the journey home to Naples, where Miranda and Ferdinand were finally able to get married.
We need use of the performance area for three hours.
Please re-arrange any activities scheduled for that time, and have the space cleared for our arrival.
Our set will extend 25 feet across, and is 20 feet deep. We’ll help the teachers to seat their students.
The students should sit cross-legged on the floor, in order of age. This is easiest to accomplish if the students arrive in order of age, youngest to eldest. The youngest group could arrive about 5 minutes prior to the performance time.
Although children will be seated on the floor, we’ll set chairs along the sides to mark out their area; teachers can use these chairs to sit beside their classes.
We also need six chairs backstage.
Please turn off all bells, fans, and air conditioners for the performance.
We need to back our van up to the door which gives the closest access to the performance area. Please arrange to have gates and doors unlocked, and to keep the parking space free for us. If there is no easy access to the performance area, we’d appreciate it if three or four people could help us to unload and load our equipment.
A floor plan of the show, in PDF format, is available for download: click here.
Click here for a PDF version of this sheet.