Children tend to be an unapologetically honest bunch—for the most part, at least. But it’s this uninhibited critique that is pivotal in the success of Sprouts New Play Festival for Kids as presented by Concrete Theatre, a local company dedicated to presenting innovative and challenging plays for young people.
The festival consists of three 15-minute plays, and the children in the audience will be asked to provide feedback immediately after the performance in order for each playwright to gain a better understanding of whether the story is making the desired impact, if the characters are connecting with the children and what may not be resonating with their young audiences.
“They’re a tough crowd in that they’re absolutely honest. If they’re engaged, they’re fantastically engaged, and if a character asks a question on stage they’ll immediately answer it and they have a high, high investment in the characters,” says Concrete co-founder Caroline Howarth, who will also act as dramaturge for the plays, which are not in their final forms yet and will be delivered through theatrical readings. “The other side of it is, of course, if they’re not engaged they’ll let you know immediately. It’s fantastic, but it goes in both directions.”
The plays presented at the festival, which is celebrating its 13th year, include Weesageechak Loses His Bum by Kenneth T Williams, a retelling of a traditional Cree myth; Burlap, Prince of Trolls by Cat Walsh, where the main character brings her favourite storybook to life; and Little Eagle by Natasha Deen, a tale about the value of individuality when Little Cloud’s wish to become an eagle is granted and he does his best to fit in.
“I think what’s really powerful about theatre for kids—and for adults as well—[is that] it engages you in a different way,” Howarth says, noting theatre for children has evolved past fairy tale adaptations into new, thought-provoking territory. “I think it allows an audience to walk in the shoes of a character, and see a new experience of the world, but really through the eyes of the character. It provides us a way of developing really strong empathy for those characters.”
Sat, Jun 14 and Sun, Jun 15 (lobby activities at 1 pm; plays at 2 pm)
Stanley A Milner Library Theatre, $5, (free for children under three years)