Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Victory Scottish Festival: MY HOUSE and Andy Manley

What is the history and creative process behind this production? I created MY HOUSE in February 2007 when I was working as Drama Artist for the pilot of the “Starcatchers” program in Edinburgh. During the residency I had created another show for [kids age] zero to three but felt that I wanted to test out some new ideas. How much could you perform as a character for this age range? And also how important was narrative for so young an audience? I had been fascinated by the cardboard sculptures of Rosie Gibson, a Visual Artist creating work for [the very young] in Scotland, and also the premise that children find cardboard boxes endlessly fascinating. I decided to use cardboard as the basis for the set and played about with the ideas of schematic development that very young children go through as part of their learning. The show premiered at an international Symposium - not necessarily the best way to show your work for the first time; [it's] quite a nerve wracking mix of professionals, experts as well as some critical two year-olds. However the show was very well received and has been since. Consequently, I was invited to perform at the Imaginate Children's Festival in Edinburgh and have subsequently toured throughout the UK as well as festivals in Bologna, Madrid and Salzburg.

Why did you choose to create work for such a young audience? And what in particular, makes MY HOUSE so ideal for kids between 18 months and three years old?
When I took up the residency at Starcatchers, I had been working in children and young people's theatre for sixteen years. However I had never created a show specifically for children under three. I thought it would be a challenge to see what I might come up with. I was initially unsure as to the impact of the work but worked on a 'how low can you go' principle. Over the years I had successfully created theatre for three year-olds and their younger siblings had been present and appeared to enjoy the shows. If you could definitely perform for a two year-old, what about 18 month-old? What about 14 months?

When I was in Salzburg recently, one of the Nursery teachers said rather beautifully that she regarded her [teaching] practice as simply working with human beings at this particular stage in their lives. Hopefully, this is what I do in MY HOUSE. I do not have something to show them as a teacher would - an adult to a child. I try instead to have the same curiosity, wonder and delight that very young children exhibit when going about their daily investigations and I think they respond to me as a fellow investigator rather than [as] an adult. MY HOUSE has a very simple story. It tries to meet the children at the stage they are in their development.

Do you find that performing a one-man show for this age range is dramatically different than performing for older kids or adults? How so?
I have to be extremely calm which is not always very easy for me so that involves a lot of acting. I also have to perform three shows a day which can be very demanding. Though the show itself is only 25 minutes, it is very concentrated work. I try and make eye contact with every child in the audience and make them feel that I am involving them personally. The experience usually lasts a further 15 minutes as I like the children to be able to physically remember and experience the things that they have seen. Though I am not performing, I am still interested and animated about what they are finding.

Have you had any unusual or funny experiences performing this piece or are there any other fun facts about the show or your work that you would like to share with our audiences?
During the show I draw on the floor and the set and I often do this to a chorus of "oh naughty mummy" or "he's a naughty man". I'm not sure if the children feel real outrage at my naughtiness or are just repeating what they think they should say.

The show can get a very different reaction depending on where I am performing. I only say two words in the show – “my” and “house.” This silent performance style can seem alien depending on the culture that surrounds the children. When I performed the show in Bologna the children gave the show their own soundtrack whereas in Spain I had to say hello and interact with the children in order to get their trust otherwise they would just cry en masse. It's fascinating that cultural differences are there from such an early age.

Photo by Paul Watt.

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