Engaging Very Young Audiences

By the end of college I had sworn off acting as a career choice for myself. I yelled from the rooftops, “It’s not who I am! It’s not for me! I’m not an actor!” From time to time I still stomp around saying these words.

While I identify first and foremost as a teaching artist, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working as a professional actor (and facilitator) in Trike Theatre’s professional production of Jamie Doesn’t Want to Take a Bath, a theatre piece for preschool audiences. We toured Jamie to preschools in and around Bentonville, AR and performed for family audiences in Trike Theatre’s new performance space and at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, AR.

The very young, specifically preschool and kindergarten continually inspire and surprise me with their immediacy, sense of humor and creative ideas. When I am in a pre-K or kindergarten classroom, I am in my element. And now, I’m happy to say that in addition to my love of teaching this particular age group, they are also my new favorite audience.

In Jamie Doesn’t Want to Take a Bath, the audience meets three and a half year old Jamie and her mom. It is the night before Jamie’s first day of school, and Jamie does not want to take a bath. Jamie tries to distract Mom from the task, so she can keep playing in the bathroom. Along the way, Jamie makes a few big messes: the first with toothpaste and the second with toilet paper. Mom tries a myriad of tactics to get her daughter to take a bath including a puppet show about Princess Jamie of the Bathroom complete with puppets made from bath toys and found objects.

Team Jamie @ Trike!

Team Jamie @ Trike!

The Jamie Team going a little crazy playing with the bath puppets!

The Jamie Team going a little crazy playing with the bath puppets!

Engagement takes many forms, and in the case of our audience members aged 2-5, engagement is visible, kinesthetic and verbal. Some of my favorite verbal gems from our young audience members during Jamie and after performances:

“Your mom’s gonna be so much mad!”

“Busted! You’re gonna get busted!”

“Jamie, I told you so. I told her that was gonna happen.”

“Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me, sister?”

(5 minutes into the show) “This is the BEST, FUNNIEST show I’ve EVER seen!”

“So… where’s Dad at?” asked one young person during the interactive segment near the end of the play.

At the end of the show, “Again, again!”

“Is Jamie coming tomorrow? Is she going to be in our class?”

In addition to their verbal engagement related to the story, these young people are also supremely interested in the mechanics of theatre, with frequent questions for me along the lines of “Are you really her mom?” “Are you real?” Very young audience members often have very few pre-conceptions of theatre and expectations for what will happen. Everything is new to them. This immediacy and talent for living moment-to-moment reminded me to do the same during the performance. This was a frequent challenge for me as an undergraduate acting student. But performing for audiences who give immediate feedback, ask questions and make connections to their own lives (that they also want to tell you about!), it becomes much easier to live one moment at a time in a performance. With each new audience, each performance takes on a new life.


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