By BRUCE DENNILL
Shelley Adriaanzen is the director of Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical at Redfest 2018. For more information, go to redhillinnovate.co.za/redfest.html.
You worked on the children’s show Freckleface Strawberry, which had a similar theme to this show – that being different is not being less. It’s obviously a topic that, sadly, requires an ongoing focus. How important is the message of a piece for you when choosing work – in general and regarding this specific subject matter?
Subject matter is always very important for me when choosing a piece. I feel a responsibility when creating any work to give the audience a unique experience. Whether it’s an experience that purely entertains and takes you away from your everyday problems for a couple of hours, or an experience that shares an important message and makes you think in a way you haven’t before, it’s crucial that I take each project on with 100% dedication and focus. And I can only do that if I truly believe in the subject matter. This specific subject is particularly important to me because I’m seeing too many cases lately of bullying and isolation of young people. If this piece can change the mind of just one person, it’s all worth it.
Theatre as education: how direct can you make a message in a play or a musical before it becomes too cerebral; something like life skills class with jazz hands?
Be truthful! Theatre is an incredibly effective tool in education. It allows a message to be relayed to a young audience without feeling like they are being lectured to. If the creative team and cast – especially the director – create each piece they work on with real sincerity, then I believe your message will come across in a truthful, unpatronising way.
From a different perspective, do you think that we use the stage enough as a platform from which to give youngsters worthwhile resources?
Not at all. I would love for theatre to be utilised way more in education. The stage isn’t only a place where we can educate and relay messages in a fresh and exciting way but theatre and performance training can give a voice to kids out there who are battling with anxiety and self-confidence, and those who just haven’t found their place in society yet.
Technically, does Polkadots require a different sort of direction because it’s aimed at a young audience? Do actors need to be, for example, less subtle in delivering lines lest some of the impact of the wording is lost?
Younger audiences are by far the tougher crowd. A child will see through an insincere performance or delivery instantly! And they really can pick up subtleties within delivery and staging. So, not at all. In fact, I spend a lot of time really dissecting the text and message to make sure we are being truthful in our delivery. I like to approach every piece I take on from the same place. A place of truth. If you’ve done that you’ve won half the battle.
For many of the younger members of the audiences – “born frees” and younger – the harshest underlying elements of the narrative (the prejudice based on skin colour, particularly) may seem relatively unfamiliar (hopefully, anyway). In that sense, what are you hoping to communicate to parents and older audiences watching the piece?
Sadly, I feel that prejudice is still a massive issue in our society. So, I still feel that the message is the same whether you are a “born free” or from the earlier generations, like me!. However, for the older audiences and parents, I hope that they can leave this show positively feeling that even though society is still battling prejudice and discrimination, we can feel proud to be part of a generation that stood up and started this fight.
Beyond the themes and the messages and all the rest, Polkadots may be an introduction to musicals for many children (particularly those too young for the likes of Cabaret or Les Miserables). What do you hope this production will inspire in those kids – both as future audiences and as potential theatre makers?
As a child, my favourite time of year was watching the pantomime. I remember experiencing two things every time: one – knowing that one day I would be a part of that world; and two – feeling totally transported to a magical place that made me forget anything else for a couple of hours. So for all the little future performers and creatives that have already discovered a penchant for the stage, I really hope that this will inspire them to continue training. And for the others who are not necessarily interested in a performing arts career I hope it inspires them to go and watch more shows! No matter who you are or where you come from, watching live theatre can be a magical experience each time you go. If I can contribute to putting more bottoms on seats in the theatre then I’ve done my job.