Arts Theatre

Paper can be anything

/ Bonnie Patton
/ Bonnie Patton

Paper Song tells the story of a Japanese folktale using shadow puppetry and large-scale origami

Partake, if you will, in a little transcendental meditation—you’re back in elementary school, maybe seven or eight; your greatest joy in life is a pair of light-up Velcro shoes. Single file, you shuffle into your school’s gymnasium for a show put on by a children’s theatre company—it’s grim, forgettable, and even (at times) a little cringe-worthy, but it takes up the final two periods and gives you an early start to the weekend.

This, in essence, is what Edmonton’s own Concrete Theatre company has attempted to change —they want to provide young people with the chance to experience some truly meaningful and quality theatre. And, based on their 31-year-old CV, they do a damned good job of it, garnering rave reviews from audiences and critics alike.

Their most recent outings, productions of the crowd-pleasing Paper Song and Consent, aim to continue this streak of providing youngsters with a provocative and insightful drama.

Paper Song’s plot is that of a Japanese folktale: a crane, a mouse, and the mouse’s grandfather (this is a story for kids, remember) fight against their oppressive overlord: a goblin named Tengu. The story will be told using conventional means as well as shadow puppetry and large-scale origami.

It is indeed a simple story, but playwright Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull assures it’s rife with potential.

“I think what really drew me to this story was how powerful the message was,” Turnbull explains. “It’s so simple, but it’s so effective.”

A self-proclaimed labour activist and campaigner for social justice, Matsunaga-Turnbull claims that when he wrote Paper Song for part of Concrete Theatre’s 2013 Sprouts Festival of New Plays, he aimed to use the piece as a catalyst for change.

“I approached the piece from the point of view of the oppressed—being half Japanese, I drew a lot of inspiration from Canada’s internment of the Japanese during and after the Second World War.”

Admittedly, this sounds a tad heavy for the age-group this play is targeting (5-12). Thinking back, I’m not sure my fragile little psyche could have handled even the inference that my grandparent’s generation was culpable in forcing innocent civilians into prison camps. However, Turnbull assures us that kids are a lot more open-minded than we might give them credit for:

“When I see young people I see hope—there’s a real understanding of what’s right, what’s fair. The key is showing them that we can only make things right by banding together.”

A noble ambition, to be sure, one made all the more poignant by an analogy he left with to sum things up:

“Think of it like origami—paper is really fragile until it’s folded and brought together. Then it can be incredibly strong, and extremely beautiful.”

Thu., Feb. 15 – Sat., Feb. 16 (Various Times)
Young Theatre featuring: Consent and Paper Song
La Cité Francophone

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