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Some Ponderings from Lizzie

April 21, 2010

Thanks Liz for a fantastic and personal blog. You can tell you are a storyteller because your memories conjured up so many great images in my head.

And Tash, really interested to read your comments on The Bridge although I feel a little foolish because I didn’t pick up  on the moment when Daniella was looking for the 7th colour of the rainbow (and I saw the production twice!). You’ll have to remind me about this moment. I like to think that it was my lack of language that made me miss it although you’ll probably now tell me it was a non verbal musical moment.

Anyway what with a virus in the last week, a day of computer rage (it took me a whole day to get a new router up and working) and a breakdown (car not mind) in Blackpool where Maddy was dancing at the Winter Gardens – Blackpool reference for Rachel in case you’re reading… it’s taken me a while to get back to this blogging.

Enjoying the sun -only Liz had the foresight to bring sunglasses. Note Villach's 'Thinking Jester' - or has he just got toothache?

Some ponderings

When I was first invited on to the Dandelion project we had to make some statements about what we wanted to learn, what we wanted to find out from participating on this project. My ideas were, if my memory serves me, rather vague (to the extent that I cannot quite remember what they were!) but really I think deep down that I had a question to which I was seeking an answer  but which I was finding it difficult to articulate – a little nagging voice inside me that was still saying what is the point of doing theatre for such young children?  We always hope that people will remember our work even if it is only a moment that lodges in their conscious memory but to set out to make an experience for children who will apparently ‘forget’ it  seems almost a little masochistic. I think I felt embarrassed to say it out loud because I knew that, by now, many people believed passionately in the value of theatre for very small children (under 3s) and I liked the idea instinctively but I was still confused and seeking to settle the matter with my own intellect. Dandelion has given me the time and opportunity to reflect on this matter, to ponder, to listen, to watch, to debate and now, more than a year further on I think that I am much closer to having an understanding of why it is a very important  matter for artists to consider making work for such small children and to share this work both with the children and with the children’s parents and carers. Interestingly it is through science and other research that I am finding answers to some of my questions. Roberto Frabetti touched on this matter in his talk when he referred to some research coming out of the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Leipzig – research that is exploring the notion that aesthetics help to develop cognitive awareness through developing our neurological abilities. (He added that, of course, this wasn’t yet entirely proven but he liked to think that it would be.) I have been reading The Philosophical Baby by Alison Gopnik (only half way through at the moment) and much of what I am reading there excites me. I would like to share a few quotes.
‘An animal that depends on imagination has to have some time to exercise it. Childhood is that time.’
‘Children are the R & D department of the human species – the blue sky guys, the brainstormers.’
Although the brain is changeable even into adulthood (from the neuroscience point of view) ‘the visual cortex is much the same at 6 months and 60.’

I am particularly taken by the following notion – the fact that children learn a lot from observation ‘by watching what others do and learning from it, we can go beyond the brief scope of an individual life.’ In other words babies acquire their understanding of the world from both experimentation and observation – they can draw stronger conclusions from experimentation (so handling materials, exploring etc are all powerful moments for a child’s development) but they cannot acquire all their knowledge from direct experience (they don’t have enough time!) so they must do it from observation – next time a small child studies you with those wide eyes and holds you in that stare remember her brain is busy at work, processing everything that she sees.

One chapter also deals with the development of psychological awareness – ‘perhaps most potent of all children can learn about the mind by observing the interactions and interventions of people around them.’ Roberto also highlighted the fact that theatre is important in helping the child to develop sensitivity – the precursor to empathy.

Well, these are just a few moments in the book but I think the more we learn about the developments and needs of the child’s brain from birth the more we will feel that aesthetic and theatrical experiences have a positive and special role to play in a child’s life, particularly in our current computer/TV screen society.

And, at the same time as realising that the child’s mind is open to and ready for these wonderful experiences,then we can also understand why artists are attracted to undertake this work. As Wolfgang Schneider said in his talk, there is a challenge ‘To establish the art of simplicity and to renew the language of theatre.’ Liz, this links to something that you have just said in your first blog ‘As a performer/director, Mother, Grandmother of two little ones and a relative newcomer to the creation of work for early years, I yearn for a simple style of theatre.  For a way of connecting with my audience – just like my Great Grandmother.’ I love that and I think I too share those feelings. A simple style of theatre – that is a statement deceptive in its simplicity. For, as we all know, this simple style of theatre is one of the hardest to achieve – the distillation and effort that goes into making a half hour of theatre for our audience of small folk is one of the hardest forms of theatre to create. And I think that this is why artists are drawn to the work. To accept the challenge and to seek a new language.

Through the Dandelion project I have seen a lot of wonderful work for small children, I have listened to a lot of people sharing their ideas and theories, I have spent time in nurseries and, most important of all, I have opened my eyes to see more keenly the growing lives of the small children with whom I come into contact. The thing is that when you are a parent of very young children you can spend much of your time in a fog – you are tired from lack of sleep and from early mornings, you are frustrated by repetitive activities, you love your children but you are not necessarily the soul of patience! Now I am older and I have a little distance I actually find that my curiosity is growing and part of this growing curiosity is sheer wonder at the extraordinary early life of the baby human. The nagging voice at the back of my mind about the value of theatre for the very young  has dropped to the tiniest whisper and I have lots of new questions and observations.

Thank you Dandelion.

More images from Villach

The congress centre in Villach

You will need to click on this to enlarge it or what I am saying won't make sense. Loved the emergency exit on the confessional in the church in Villach - think the Pope might be interested!!

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One comment

  1. Hi lizzie, got your blackpool reference! hope she did well, and love to read your thoughts. I would love to know a bit more avbout the actual performance if anyone has time?
    Hope all is well in yorkshire,
    Love rx



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