Comment: You and I

by Lynn on February 25, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

Was At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Created by Maja Ardal

Directed by Allen MacInnis

Designed by Lokki Ma

Dramaturg, Stephen Colella

Cast: Maja Ardal

Malindi Ayienga

Note: While this was a workshop presentation, both Maja Ardal the creator/performer in the piece and Stephen Colella, the dramaturg said it was ok to write comments. I’m delighted to do so.

You and I is a natural progression to Maja Ardal’s previous show One Thing Leads to Another. In One Thing Leads to Another the focus group was infants 0-12. I saw that show twice and they were the quietest audiences I had ever been in. I guess because one expects noise and didn’t get it. The babies were rapt with attention. The show consisted of various kinds of stimulus, from bouncing balls, ‘hide and seek’, the tactile experience of feeling a piece of silk material brush their head, listening to various noises. The scenes were short but not abrupt. They flowed after just enough time to engage the infant and then move on.

You and I is geared towards young children 12 months to 30 months. In this group the intention is that the child should be able to walk. Maja Ardal does not call them toddlers but rather ‘explorers.’ She says in the program note: “Toddlers describes how many of them walk. I find it to be too objectifying. But they are always exploring as soon as they start to travel on foot. I have mentioned this to many parents who like the name a lot. It invites the explorer to respond in more than one way to the activities of the actors. We encourage responses of observation and interaction.”

When I enter the Studio where the show takes place, the floor is covered in colourful cushions and blankets. Parents and their ‘explorer’s’ are sitting on the cushions or the blankets. Both Maja Ardal and Malindi Ayienga, the attentive performers of the piece, are sprawled out on the blankets, at the eye-level of the children, engaging, playing, talking to them, so that the children can look the performer in the eye, and not have to strain to look up at a standing performer. At all times Ardal and Ayienga are respectful of the children, quiet spoken, enthusiastic but not in that fake up-sounding voice. This is genuine.

When the show is about to begin, Ardal and Ayienga go from the blankets to the ‘stage’ section of the floor and ask the parents to ensure that their children stay on the blankets until they are invited on stage to play etc. One little boy leaves his mother’s arms to stand on the blankets, close to the stage, watching. At a point in the show the children are encouraged to clap their hands. The standing boy makes tentative movements in his arms but doesn’t clap. A little girl who is in her mother’s lap is eager to clap. Both young children are engaged in their own way.

The scenes seem a little longer in You and I than they were in One Thing Leads to Another as if the attention span of an ‘explorer’ is longer than that of an infant. Maja Ardal and Malindi Ayienga throw a colourful ball back and forth. A blue bucket held by a rope ‘drops’ down from the flies and a man’s gentle voice (Allen MacInnis) says ‘bucket’ or calls the two women: “Mello”, “Dee.” The man is unseen. All there is is his voice. The standing boy is confused and a bit unsettled by this. He seeks out the comfort of his mother’s arms. He’s not crying but he’s unsure of what is happening. His mother takes him to the back of the blankest to watch the show from there. After a while he settles, becomes more comfortable, and resumes his standing place close to the stage area. His mother sits a bit back from the playing area.

Since the audience is vital in this exploration and show, Maja Ardal asks this boy’s mother if he was distressed. She says that he wasn’t but he wants to know where everything is and where it’s coming from. He heard the voice but didn’t see where it was coming from. The same with the bucket. It just dropped down slowly on that rope from the flies. You know that the performers are exploring with this show as much as the children. If necessary Ardal might makes adjustments on the feedback from the child and parent. 

Ardal and Ayienga tossed a colourful biggish ball into the bucket or hide the bucket on the top of a box or a wardrobe with two doors. Ardal opened the wardrobe and all sorts of soft, cushy shapes and toys fell out onto the stage. The children were galvanized.

Ardal and Ayienga built a house with an archway from many of the soft shapes. The children were then invited to crawl through the archway into the courtyard of the house, so they could play with the toys. Parents guided their children to the archway. Some crawled through easily. Some needed to be coaxed. All eventually played with the shapes, their parents and the other children. Ardal and Ayienga were on the floor engaging with them. When play time was over a soft bell rang and ‘clean-up’ time was announced and all the stuff was put into containers to prepare for the next show.

Perhaps the greatest lesson to be taught will be to the parents. They are so anxious to expose their child to all sorts of things that they naturally point out to the children what they (the adults) want them to see. You just want to tell them to lighten up and just let the kid discover on their own. The kid will lead the way and one hopes, will teach the parent something. I could see the beginnings of this instruction here, but not with One Thing Leads to Another. Interesting.

It’s always an education watching children discover the world.

You and I played at Young People’s Theatre until Feb. 23, 2020.

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