Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Thursday, March 24, 2011

No place for "cute" in Family Programming

This is a re posted from an entry I wrote for Piccadilly Arts in February 2011 regarding her month on Risky Programming. I encourage you to check out Chrissie DiAngelus' blog, she has been posting some wonderful pieces,

My mother is a painter. We weren’t allowed to use the word “cute” in the house, let alone when describing artwork. I have grown up not wanting to watch “cute” either. I don’t think we should want it for our family programming. We want work that doesn’t dumb down the audience. We want work that speaks to us on many levels. 
Let's Talk About IT! at Playwright Horizon's Peter Jay Sharp Theater

Recently I returned from the International Performing Arts for Young People (IPAY) conference. Now that we, Treehouse Shakers, have Piccadilly Arts as our arts manager, I don’t think it is so pertinent that the other co-founder and I attend these performing booking conferences. This year I went though, primarily because I wanted the artistic inspiration. Every year I experience a performance that I love, that inspires me on all levels: as a writer, performer, director, and producer. This year wasn’t any different. Towards the end of the weeklong conference, I fell in love with two pieces, one from Italy that was dark, brilliant, and aesthetically juicy. I also loved a piece from Canada that I found more on the fence of performance art for kids, and I LOVED it!

I came home inspired. I wrote. I began the production planning for a new project. I even began writing the grants. And then I wrote some more. Risky programming, it maybe, but I feel alive and excited to make something new.

Treehouse Shakers has always strived to make interesting work. Every time we make something new, we push our own concept of dance-theater, our style of storytelling, and what youth programming can look like. In our nearly fifteen years of making work I have never wanted to make work like other people’s. I also don’t want to watch work that is the same. I want to watch work that is enthralling, visual, and stimulating. 

Sometimes my collaborating partner, Emily, jokes we might as well rename our shows after a famous children’s book title so that we can contract more work. It is indeed frustrating as an artist to see the presenting theater rosters packed with not so great shows, but sellable titles. I am also beyond bored watching companies that make work following the “rules” on how to tell a story, play a story, and act a story. I am also tired of watching companies “sell-out”. And I am terribly disappointed that other companies use grade B performers because the show is for children. We need high quality work that pushes us creatively as audience members, no matter our age. That makes us think, stirs our thoughts, and makes us go WOW! That was an experience! Otherwise, why not just turn on the TV and tune-out to a not-so good cartoon? Our society, let alone our kids, needs a jumpstart artistically. We are in the triage center when it comes to art. If we don’t do something that heals the situation fast, we are going to have generations of children who think live performance is boring!

C’mon! Live performance should be anything but boring!
Treehouse Shakers' Let's Talk About IT! at Playwrights Horizons' Peter Jay Sharp Theater, NYC

Not only do I create work for young audiences, but also I have worked as a professional arts educator for 16 years. I have developed pre-school and elementary curriculum in storytelling, creative drama, and dance. I know kids; I work with them every day. I have one of my own. They are beyond “cute”. They are deeply insightful, even when they might not have the vocabulary to match, they are highly thoughtful, playful, and they are most of all responsive. They want work that makes them feel, think, challenges them, and makes them grow. Children want experiences they can soak up. That is what good artistic programming should do. Leave the tired-out, dried-up, crusty performance work for the birds.

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