Artists Interviews

Each month we feature an in-depth exploration into a current project in order to share learning and provide insight into approaches to practice.

August 2011: Corina Chiran


Our Guest Editor for August-September, Corina Chiran, interviewed Cliodhna Noonan, with whom she co-created the ‘Shoe Show’ - a gentle production for a very gentle 0-3 audience.


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About the artist

About the project

So, Cliodhna, you have performed for adults, for children, even for babies, how does creating a show for 0-3 differ from making theatre for other age groups?

It is the most exciting form of theatre I have ever worked in. It tests your ability as a performer to leave aside your own ego and only show the truth of what you are doing. For me, every step of the creative process must be tested with a group of children of the age you are dedicating the performance to. What might seem like magic to us, as adults, may be totally boring to these little ticket holders! So every idea should be tested in its infancy before you decide on the final performance piece. To this extent it is really important to have regular contact with your target age-group. In terms of artists, this means there has to be a partnership with local crèches, mother and toddler groups or indeed, your immediate family!!!
From the creation of the performance perspective, it is the freedom to be as abstract as you desire that stimulates me to keep creating! Although adults prefer perhaps to follow a storyline, babies need only to wonder and be stimulated by what you are doing in front of them. It was a beautiful moment when a 2 year old at the Shoe Show premiere shouted "Christmas Tree!" when I put some tinsel on an old boot... And a confirmation that simplicity and aesthetic are essential to this art form.

What are the limits that you, as a performer, perceive when interacting with this impatient young audience?

This is a funny question! For me, this is an audience that has all the time in the world...they are not impatient. And they take their cue from me as the performer. Sometimes they are nervous at their new surroundings. Sometimes their carers are nervous and they sense this. I see it as my role as a performer to reassure both carers and children that this performance is for them. It is a rare moment of aesthetic beauty that they can share. Their senses will be gently stimulated (in the case of Shoe Show, by the fresh herbs and the classical music rhythms) and I will take each and every one of these audience members with me on this journey. This is the role of an early years arts performer. This is an honest, inexperienced audience. If you let even one member feel ignored, you will lose them. There are essential elements like constant eye contact, absolute belief in what you are doing, and length of performance, which will hold their attention, and time to absorb what you want to give. The rhythms of an early years piece of theatre are different to those of an adult piece. Perhaps this is why you asked me about impatience! An adult will tire quickly of watching tissue falling - a child can watch it for much longer. Both will be entranced if you, as the performer, really believe it is snow you are playing with.
What I found extremely interesting in Shoe Show, was that I loved to observe that children aged 0-2 are essentially the same the world over. The freedom to be able to perform as an Irish actress in front of a Romanian audience (and since then, many Egyptian audiences), stemmed from the fact that this is an audience that has not learned to speak fully yet. We communicate with everything else other than words, although not every piece is non-verbal. Another challenge as a performer.
One last point - I am rigid in my belief that the experience of coming to one of these shows begins from the moment the child and carer enter the theatre. I studied this approach in Bologna and have used it myself on every occasion. I (or in the case of Shoe Show, Corina) welcome parents/carers and children outside the performance space and explain gently what is about to happen. Very young children do not like sudden surprises. They are much better able to relax and enjoy a new experience if they feel comfortable. In the case of Shoe Show, I was already sitting on stage smiling and receiving the audience as they came into the performance space. In the case of my new production, Silver Tree, I actually lead the audience in and help them to find their most comfortable spot as part of the first few minutes of the performance. In all cases, I do not start until ALL audience members are assembled and under no circumstances can I allow latecomers. This method of preparing the newcomers to the theatre and settling everyone’s nerves before I begin, means that there is little or no disturbance during the show from the young audience.

Talking about energetic flows, what do you receive from such a young audience, while performing in front of them?

I would like to divide my answer into two parts. The amazing thing about performing for the 0-3s is that this is an audience that cannot come alone to the theatre. They have to be accompanied. Even if the performance is in their own crèche space. So as a performer, I have to appeal to both the very young children and their adult carers.
I have found over the past two years that while I usually direct my energy towards the inclusion of the little ones first, once they are settled and enjoying the atmosphere and the story of what they are watching (however abstract this story may be!), there is a point where I suddenly feel that the adult carers are with me also. I believe this has to do with expectations maybe. Perhaps the adults do not realize coming in, that this is a moment of togetherness with their children, or perhaps they do not expect to be engaged themselves in this way. I like to think that I give back a moment of time when we all had the freedom and the magic that children have to accept stories, images and sounds in their simplest form and to have the time to process them. I really enjoy the feedback from the adults who bring their children for this reason.
The children, of course, provide a different response. I receive their captivation at the smallest detail, I receive their peacefulness and acceptance that I am something interesting to watch for 25 minutes, I receive their emotional responses to a new situation and to new stimuli (lights and music they have not seen before perhaps) and I receive the same message from every audience all over the world so far... a delight in the interactive form of song and storytelling that is being lost in an age of technology.



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