Doing it for the kids: Box of Delights
This school holidays, Rosheen Fatima encourages you to enjoy some wholesome family fun with the children's theatre show 'Box of Delights'
Easily distracted, children are the world's harshest critics. However, when a children's performance truly works, magic happens on stage. This is exemplified by a tale making its rounds on the internet, of a performance of 'Harold and the Purple Crayon'. In his show notes, stage manager Michael B Paul wrote that 'there was a five-year-old autistic child in the house. He had never spoken. But as the lights went down, he began to talk. In full sentences.' The boy's teacher had never heard him speak, but he was so taken in by the show that it drew him out of his world. That is a magical example of the beauty of theatre.
Keeping children entertained is not an easy feat especially when it comes to live performances. Today’s younger generation face a sensory overload every single day, from television, film and video games. Marina Tan, director and creator of 'Box of Delights' knows this better than most. 'It's definitely more challenging because children are more honest in how they react; if they don't like it they are not scared of showing it,' she explains.
A juggler of roles in the Malaysian performing arts scene, Marina is a writer, teacher and performer. Her first stab at children's theatre, with 'Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa – A Swashbuckling Epic Adventure!' in 2009, showcased her talents both as writer and director and won that year’s Boh Cameronian Arts Award for Audience Choice – Theatre. Passionate about children's theatre, she wants to see the genre grow in Malaysia and has spoken to Playground Productions (the people behind Projek Disko Baldi and Artificially Intelligent: Improvholics Anonymous) about creating a children's theatre show. Discussions over teh tarik, between producer Tuan Faisal Azmy and Marina manifested in 'Box of Delights', a monthly children's show aimed at kids (aged four to 12) and adults alike. Faisal explains that the objective is for 'families to have a fun time together, children to have fun learning and also for parents to introduce their children to the arts'.
The theatre scene in Malaysia is rather seasonal, with many children's theatre shows coinciding with school holidays. However, many of the shows that are staged here are international productions. 'This region is rich with cultural content and talent, we want to explore that and market these stories to the young to put them in touch with these kind of stories', Marina says, with Faisal adding, 'It’s about time to focus on children's theatre; there is a growing awareness regarding children's theatre, and there are many local talents, so we want to focus on the talents we have and grow from there'.
Launched last month, with 'Triumph of the Little Chicken! and Other Stories', the team behind 'Box of Delights' aims to present local stories 'without patronising or belittling [the children's] level of understanding and expression'. Marina explains that patronising shows do happen. 'Just because it's children's theatre, doesn't mean it has to be dumbed down,' Marina stresses, 'children's theatre should inspire and encourage, but not overwhelm'. The stories in ‘Box of Delights’ are interactive and they take place in a regional setting with classic Malaysian and Asian historical elements woven through the narrative. This month, they present 'Cheng Ho & the Fabulous Food from Around the World (and Other Stories)’ which sees the Admiral setting sail to Melaka to bring back fabulous food for China, battling pirates and finding friends along the way.
Staged in Enfiniti's Theatre Restaurant, Tapis Rouge, the production offers a unique family dining experience, giving families a chance to spend Sunday lunchtime together with wholesome entertainment. The difficulty with presenting a show to both children and adults is that 'it's a continual struggle to achieve balance for kids and adults. We're striving to achieve those ideals,' explains Marina, 'you just have to keep checking what you do and why, but always challenge yourself to ensure it's not junk food for the mind,' she laughs. If the press preview is anything to go by, they have nothing to worry about; it was both healthy and hearty family fare.
Catch 'Box of Delights' on June 3. For more info, see event listing.