What are they teaching my 2 year old? Part III
Today I had the privilege of enjoying a lovely show in the
pleasantly icebergish Long Center. It's 106 every day here, I cannot express
how nice it was to sit in a space and just feel cool. But even if I hadn't been
thrillingly not melty, I still would have thoroughly enjoyed the show we saw,
Pattern Nation, as produced by Pollyanna Theatre Company.
I hadn't heard of Pollyanna before and didn't know what to expect when I saw the write up in the Chronicle. But now I am very interested in seeing what they do in the future, including their children's version of The Tempest coming up in August. One of the shows I remember seeing as a small one is a shorter version of Macbeth at Stage One, so even though I think Ollie might be a bit young for Shakespeare, there's no harm in trying.
Pattern Nation owes a fair debt to the Paperbag Players, my favorite historical children's theatre company. Like the Paperbag Players, their sets and costumes were simple and looked made out of homemade things, the main set piece/prop was a cardboard box. The set consisted of a backdrop that said Pattern Nation with different scraps of fabric on it, there were some platforms to the right, and three circles in green, blue, and yellow painted on the floor. The two dimensional props, representing food and other things, were all charmingly decoupage with different papers and fabrics for a vintage patchworky feel. I was really impressed with how cute they were.
When we came into the theatre, Red was snoozing fitfully on the platforms (making up the fourth color circle) and his wiggling and flopping made the kids giggle. The show had no real narrative, though I guess it is the third part in a series. Red, Blue, and Green were anthropomorphized guys, each with a distinct personality. Yellow was a woman. A voice announces overhead that "Today's Pattern is Boxes" (a touch I thought maybe overtly too much like preschool television) and the characters begin a series of sketches about patterns and shapes and colors that Red, who is tired and not feeling well, resists taking part in. When he does try to get involved, he can't get the patterns right. The kids all thought this was hilarious, as they knew what shape was supposed to come up next and here this goofy grown up couldn't get with the program. Red in particular was hilarious, with a mugging expressive face that perfectly brought his rebellious character to life.
The main sketch was a large cardboard box being delivered to the friends and them figuring out what it was (a box) but then what it could be used for (a cat bed-- the cat being spot on embodied by Blue, a pirate ship, a limeade stand, a puppet theatre). Along the way there were songs and silly dancing, different emotions expressed, and unlike the rote Annie, though the audience today was unfairly tiny, the four actors in this show acted their hearts out for their child audience.
I loved this show. I thought it was extremely well written, fantastically acted, and well designed and directed. I have to say, I wish the story had been a bit more of a through line and a bit less of a sketch comedy thing, though I do know from reading about educational theory that this is supposed to be the way to best keep small one's attention spans. So since this show was all about entertaining the small one, my personal structural preference takes a back seat.
This was not quite the visual extravaganza The Very Hungry Caterpillar was, but this was in every way my definition of good children's theatre and I encourage anybody with a small one to go see the next Pattern show that pops up.