Elly McDonald, director of NYTC’s upcoming production of Seussical, explains why making excellent theatre for younger audiences means it is perfect for the WHOLE family.
With Easter approaching, parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles are starting to plan activities the whole family can enjoy. By and large, the age of the younger sprogs will shape the whole group’s activities. The wisest amongst us check local theatres to see what’s on offer because they know that successful family shows are carefully crafted to entertain not only the littluns but their older siblings, teens, parents and grandparents too.
Louise Callow, a veteran of children’s theatre, co-founder of Scamp Theatre, and the genius behind a slew of successful adaptations of kids’ books for stage says, "You are under more pressure with kids’ theatre than you are with theatre for adults. If you get it wrong, then they may not want to go again". Louise put together a checklist of five essential rules of any successful ‘family show’ so we decided to compare it to Seussical. It passes with flying colours. See for yourself.
1. A great story
A lot of family shows are based on adaptations of children’s books, but that doesn't mean that all good books will make good theatre. For a book to translate well onto the stage, the characters have to be believable (even better if they are familiar), the story has to have twists and turns, difficulties and successes and everything must be ‘alright in the end’.
The story behind Seussical is an combination of many of the books by Dr Seuss including, Horton Hears a Who, Green Eggs and Ham, and Horton Hatches and Egg and is jam packed with many of Dr Seuss’s most loved characters including The Cat in The Hat, Horton the Elephant, Gertrude McFuzz, JoJo Mayhoo, The Grinch, and Thing 1 & Thing 2, to name a few. With so many stories to choose from, Seussical is packed a slew of goodies and baddies, twists and turns, difficulties and successes and everyone is definitely where they should be at the end!
2. Entertain the adults
Ultimately, it's the adults who make the decision on where to spend their time and cash and successful family shows have mastered the art of weaving slightly more complicated emotional themes into their story lines.
In Seussical this works in many ways. When we talk to people about the show, we find that the older they are, the more likely they are to have read and loved Dr Seuss’ books.
On an emotional story telling level, Seussical works beautifully for audiences of all ages. It isn’t necessary to add separate jokes or story lines for different age groups. There is enough emotional depth already in the story to appeal to the adults. For instance, there's a beautiful song called "Alone in the Universe" and if we get that right it could make the adults cry. The kids will see two characters singing and will be looking forward to finding out what happens next, but the adults understand the poignancy of the moment and that Horton and JoJo are feeling misunderstood and completely alone.
3. Involve children
Children have wild crazy ideas and know how to appeal to other children.
NYTC’s cast is between 11 and 18 so it wasn’t very long ago they were mere children themselves. This production of Seussical has a lot of input from the company. Many have younger brothers and sisters, cousins and friends! They know what they like!
4. Don't patronise your audience
This is humongously important. There is so much content on the internet created specifically for children, designed to hook them from a very young age and it is commonplace to see children transfixed by ipads and phones when they are out and about. These children are already primed and sophisticated, so they don’t need spoon feeding when they come to the theatre.
We want to build on their understanding and broaden their entertainment experiences. For example, in Seussical many of the characters like The Sour Kangaroo and The wayward Wickersham Brothers, are fantastical animals from the Jungle of Nool. Our primed youngsters don't need a real jungle for them to know it's the Jungle of Nool, and they certainly don’t need the ‘animals’ to look realistic or wear cumbersome costumes for them to understand they are a kangaroo, cat, elephant, bird and a barrel of mischievous monkeys.
5. Inspire the audience
Kids are excited when they arrive at the theatre, and they need to understand that it's not TV and that there are real people onstage, who are performing live and can hear them too! You need a mechanism to keep them enthralled and engaged.
NYTC want our audience to enter the world of Whoville and the Jungle of Nool with us! We encourage anyone who is coming to see Seussical to dress as any Seussical character, add a touch of Seussical madness to your outfit or sport a creative Who hairstyle! We will reward those who do! That way, we hope that the audience will be interacting with the show before they step foot in the theatre. Throughout the show, we use a lot of props that are repurposed to encourage children to be creative at home. We hope that the kids will look at a ladder and want to be a monkey climbing a tree or want to make an entrance like the Sour Kangaroo. Our dream is for the audience to still be interacting with the show well after they've left the theatre.
Seussical is on at the Armstrong Hall, Thornbury from 8th -11thApril 2020 at 7.30 pm with a matinee at 2.30 on Saturday 11th April! To book, visit our website - nytc.org.uk.
See you in the Jungle of Nool!