Theatre for young audiences is a tough spot right now.
One of its selling points, for parents anyway, is that it is a screen-free experience for kids. So while TYA, as the subsector is known for short, can and has pivoted online, it loses some of its appeal in doing so.
If you’re a parent concerned about screen time, however, there are still drama-from-home options out there that don’t involve them – such as Mundane Mysteries: Playdate Edition.
I’ve written about the adult edition of The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries in this newsletter before. It’s an over-the-telephone pandemic project from Toronto’s Outside the March theatre company, a week-long “auditory adventure” wherein you receive a series of calls at an appointed hour from detectives and other intriguing characters and work toward solving a mystery.
This has really been one of the big hits of the non-theatre season. Outside the March’s team has solved more than 580 cases to date in 114 cities in 16 countries and received international press. Recently, artistic director Mitchell Cushman told me the project has put around $40,000 into the pockets of its performers.
The new Playdate Edition, created with the TYA company Theatre Direct and in association with TO Live, is geared toward five- to 13-year-olds – and designed to connect kids with other kids who they can’t play with in person right now. Cushman likens it to “a multiplayer video game, except no one has to stare at a screen, because it’s all over the telephone.” There are extra craft- and story-based activities that can be added into the experience beyond the phone calls, as well. You can book now for August – and you can participate from anywhere in Canada (or across the United States).
There are theatre activities for kids going on in person in other parts of the country as well. Whitehorse’s Nakai Theatre, for instance, is holding a giant puppet-building workshop on Wednesday at Shipyards Park as part of its At a Distance community program started during the COVID-19 pandemic: “We bring the supplies, you bring the creativity.”
At the end of the session, you can have your giant puppet play with other giant puppets from a safe physical distance in the way that humans used to do. There are more “pop-up puppet dances, puppet hugs and random puppet parades” promised in July and August.
If you’re more relaxed about kids and screen time, then there are many, many more TYA options out there.
One that caught my eye in Newfoundland: The Tales of Dwipa.
This series of shows for kids was originally brought to parks in St. John’s back in the summer of 2019 by White Rooster Theatre. Prajwala Dixit’s plays are based on the ancient Sanskrit animal fables called the Panchatantra, reframed for the Rock. “I went about retelling stories that my grandmothers have told me – that I’ve read – but in a sort of Newfoundland context,” Dixit told the Telegram last year. (A Labrador retriever and a Newfoundland dog have been added into the cast of characters.)
Now, The Tales of Dwipa – starring Ananya Antony, Robyn Vivian and Santiago Guzman – are available to watch online thanks to a partnership with RCA Theatre Company. The first few episodes are up on the RCA Facebook page; they also include craft-along-from-home segments so kids can make puppets and take part in telling these classic animal stories as well.
Earlier this year, I was very much looking forward to taking my wee one to Toronto’s WeeFestival, which is geared toward children 0 to 6. It couldn’t take place, but there is a digital edition available online. Full disclosure: There are more puppets involved in these digital shorts, too. We are living in puppet times.
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