Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Want to get some perspective on your love life? Ask a kid, says Sunny Drake.
Wait… really? Seek advice about romance and relationships from children?
For years, award-winning playwright-performer Sunny Drake and his artistic associates have striven to create works through stories and experiences that are transformational, quirky, humorous and connected. Naturally and inevitably, this means that his work invites divergent, cross-generational viewpoints.
So the better question might be, why not from children? Young people bear constant witness – both deliberate and incidental – to relationships at home, at school, in the media, on transit, even walking down the street. And unencumbered by the social politics of saying the “right” thing, they offer perspectives refreshingly free of the euphemistic filters and preconceptions that blinker adults.
Drake’s new experimental project CHILD-ISH at SummerWorks takes its source, premise and dialogue directly from interviews with children about dating and love. The interviews have been transcribed and their words re-contextualized verbatim into adult contexts for adult actors. The creative team spans the ages of almost 7 to 77, with young people even serving as dramaturgs. The result is unexpected and compelling . . . and surprisingly wise. The wonderings CHILD-ISH evokes are provocative . . . How does age affect attitudes toward dating and relationships? Where do children stand on various issues? And how might such a work influence the way that adults communicate . . . so that children are seen, heard and taken more seriously?
We spoke with Drake about the origin and future of CHILD-ISH and the profound impact of working with an intergenerational creative team.
SesayArts: What an inspired premise for a play! Where did the idea for CHILD-ISH come from? How did you come to the project (or how did the project come to you)?
A few years ago, I was chatting with a 7-year-old who was devastated that she’d asked a boy at school to be her boyfriend, and he’d said no. I listened to her sobbing, and at first I thought: What would a kid know about being in love? But as she kept talking, I started to think: Wow–I totally feel that way, too! And so I began to wonder how many of our relationship dreams, fears and experiences are similar to those of children?
BUT, when I’m heartbroken, I sob for months, so I couldn’t believe it when my 7-year-old friend started doing acrobatics – right there on the couch – and her sobs transformed to giggles in a matter of only minutes. And so this made me question all the adult couple fights that end with: “Stop being so childish!” What if sometimes we need to be more childish?
And these questions just kept running around in my head until they sparked the idea for the work.
SesayArts: Can you speak to us about the form of the piece that we are going to see at SummerWorks? (Is it a full-length play, or a series of sketches/episodes…?) And what is the plan or hope for the play’s development, going forward?
It’s a full-length theatre work that experiments with theatrical form. For the SummerWorks showings, we’re exploring about the first three-quarters of the work: the verbatim component. We weave backwards and forwards between an interview format and creating scenes out of the words of children. For example, one scene is set in a nursing home – where we witness seniors battle against their lack of autonomy and agency. Another scene is set in a therapy session where a client is struggling with which of her three crushes to marry after she’s been told it’s illegal to marry them all.
In the next development phase after SummerWorks, we will bring together a group of 10 to 15 kids in a camp format to co-create the last part of the work, which is more experiential: intergenerational conversations, games and activities with the audience that explore the themes in the work.
SesayArts: Since CHILD-ISH is a “verbatim play drawn from interviews with children about love and dating” with dramaturgy also by young people, is the play something that young people can see with their parents/guardians? What do you hope they might talk about on the way home?
Yes, children are very welcome to come and see the show! We do like to warn parents/guardians that there are some sexual references in the work, as well as a conversation about consent.
We hope that adults will listen to kids in new ways – listen deeply to their ideas and their experiences. We hope adults will also reflect on new possibilities for their own lives, inspired by the smarts and strategies of kids. We hope the show will spark conversations about consent and how we can build a culture of consent together. We hope they will talk about love and friendships and what it means to live and love on this land together.
SesayArts: What has surprised you most about working on CHILD-ISH?
Working with an intergenerational team – our youngest creative team member is 6 and a half, and our oldest is 77 – has brought so many delightful surprises. When our young collaborators step into the room, the adults’ faces light up – it’s really fun to witness. I didn’t realize how much I crave joy in my everyday life, and working with such a wide range of ages has been a nourishing and joyful process. To be honest, I didn’t envision this many children on the creative team itself (currently 7 kids, and in future stages, there will be more). Every step of the way, their creativity, intelligence and joyfulness has convinced us to keep expanding the team. By the end of the process, kids may very well have fired all of the adults!
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What: CHILD-ISH, written by Sunny Drake | Director of Child Engagement: Jessica Greenberg | Dramaturgy (children) by Eponine Lee, Sumayya Iman Malik, Ozzy Rae Horvath | Dramaturgy (adult) by Brian Quirt | Co-interviewing (child) by Mia McGrinder | Young facilitators: Sadie Kopyto Primack, Elora Gerson, Owen Ross | Lighting Design by Kimberly Purtell | Set and Costume Design by Ken Mackenzie | Sound Design by Deanna Choi | Movement Direction by Monica Dottor | Stage Managed by Sarah Miller | Produced by Joel Klein and Sunny Drake | Championed by Andy McKim | Directed by Alan Dilworth | Associate Director: Katrina Darychuk
Performed by Walter Borden, Itir Arditi, Sonny Mills, Zorana Sadiq, Maggie Huculak
Advisory: includes some sexual references and discussion about consent. The listed run times include a 15-minute Q&A after each show.
Where: The Theatre Centre – Franco Boni Theatre, 1115 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON
Info and Tickets: Summerworks.ca
© Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019