Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.
When you were a child, did your parents read you the story of Max, the disobedient child who is sent to his room without his dinner? Did your eyes widen as – instead of sulking – Max sailed away on a ship of his own imagining, to the land of the Wild Things, whom he tamed, becoming their king?
Have you read to your own children or students the tale of their wild rumpus, and Max’s eventual decision to sail back to his bedroom . . . and return to a warm dinner and reassuring domesticity?
If you’ve been the listener, the reader –or both — then whatever else you do this spring, you should not repress your Wild Thing. Instead, bring it (and have your children bring theirs) — to the interactive play Where the Wild Things Are, directed by Kim Selody and based on the beloved Caldecott-Award winning picture book by Maurice Sendak.
When my children heard about the play, they were immediately curious how such a succinct picture book–there are several pages with no words at all–could be developed into an interactive, hour-long theatrical experience. Selody explains that the story “is really about loneliness. We are able to capture this feeling in the room, as we only have two actors: the storyteller/Mom (Linda A. Carson) and Max (Raes Calvert). Everything else is imagined and created with the audience.”
Despite the story’s economy of words, Selody stresses its “great depth”, which explains why it remains a staple of Children’s Literature, over 50 years after its publication in 1963. As proof of its appeal and enduring relevance, the book has been adapted into several media: an animated short film, several play versions, an opera and feature film. Prior to Where the Wild Things Are, Children’s Literature dealt almost exclusively with “happy” themes. Not so here, notes Selody. “In our adaptation, we touch on many things: The power of our imaginations. The responsibility of adults to understand children. The visceral feelings of loneliness and how children’s feelings are as real and deep as adults. How important a “home” is to all of us.”
And who better to direct this immersive adaptation than Selody, who, in addition to 20-plus years of acting and directing experience, has a deep passion for books. “As a child, books saved my life,” he says. And as an adult, they have given a focus to his career: in addition to Where the Wild Things Are, Selody has adapted a plethora of children’s fiction, including Comet in Moominland, The Hobbit, Silverwing, Rocks and House at Pooh Corner. “I loved science fiction and fantasy books,” he notes. “They seemed to ask the big questions: ‘Where did we come from? Why are we here?’” And they would leave a lasting impression by proposing “ideas that were profound to me at the time. It was in books I learned the power of the metaphor, in helping me see the world in a new way.”
This metaphoric representation forms the heart of Where the Wild Things Are – enlivened in Selody’s adaptation by the audience’s shared experience. When Max is sent to his room, he conjures the Wild Things as a way to confront wild emotions. As a child, he feels them deeply, though he can’t identify or discuss them. He tries to reconcile them by journeying inward, ultimately controlling them in the “jungle” of his mind before returning to the comfort and familiarity of his bedroom. The audience helps Max with this inward journey and all its accompanying emotional and psychological inflections. As Selody notes, the “Wild Things are not really one character, but more of an idea in the book. This creates the room for us all to become Wild Things in the story. . . The audience is invited to ‘imagine’ what their wild thing would like, then they let it out of their head into the theatre.” Ultimately, it is a joyous as well as an enlightening journey for actors and audience alike.
Selody hopes this creates a special experience for adults like him who, as children, appreciated the story’s energetic narrative, bold images and “big questions”: “Adults have an idea in their head about the story, if they have read it. Or if not, they may have heard about it. This creates a ‘point of departure’ or common ground for an audience. In my view, the role of theatre these days is to help create community through a shared experience. These stories have the ability to create a shared experience between generations and cultures.”
So consider bringing your inner Wild Thing, your wild offspring — and their inner Wild Things — down to the fully-participatory and highly-entertaining Where the Wild Things Are this spring. Release them all to help create — and then revel in — that shared experience of generations and cultures.
Let the wild rumpus begin!
What: Where the Wild Things Are, originally adapted for the stage by Carol Healas for TAG Theatre, Glasgow; produced by Presentation House Theatre, Vancouver, BC
Who: Directed by Kim Selody, starring Raes Calvert (Max), Linda A. Carson (Storyteller/Max’s Mother)
Where: Young People’s Theatre, Studio
When: March 4-30, 2014
More Info: Where the Wild Things Are Study Guide for teachers and parentshttp://www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/wildthings-sg.pdf
Cool to Know: Maurice Sendak on Where the Wild Things Are:www.pbs.org/now/arts/sendak.html
© Arpita Ghosal 2014