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MAKING WORK FOR BABIES

This article is written by our Associate ArtistsColour The Clouds

Colour The Clouds are a Salford-based company that provide a unique theatrical experience for family audiences, combining accessible new writing with engaging original music and vibrant physicality. In this article, they share about their practice of making work for babies.

Theatre for babies? What’s the point? Don’t they just sleep or cry?

Here at Colour The Clouds Theatre Company we believe that making theatre for babies is massively important.  From encouraging the development of milestones, to providing a friendly, accepting and welcoming space for every family, we truly believe that high quality theatre for babies can benefit the whole family as well as venues and the wider theatre and arts sector.  When asking someone when did they start going to the theatre, how lovely would it be if they can answer, ‘from birth’.

So, how dowe make a theatre show for the youngest audience members?  First of all, there is a lot of research about what babies need, what they enjoy and what they’re able to engage with – and you might be surprised by how much that is!  We carefully choose a setting that is familiar to children, gentle and welcoming; like all of us, babies respond best when they feel safe and relaxed.

Many people ask us if the babies can understand what’s happening.  Even very young babies are drawn to routines that they know and to words they hear every day, therefore our narratives are simple, with patterns and repetition built in. The addition of original music is a magical element. It allows us to convey mood, tone and atmosphere without having to say a word, as well as supporting the narrative.

Over the years we have learnt that visually exciting objects – colourful birds flying across the space, interactive puppets, fireworks projected on to a canopy above the audience – are the most popular, captivating the attention of babies as young as three months old.  These key features provide lots of exciting ‘wow’ factors that parents can draw their baby’s attention to.  We hand make our own props and provide in-show opportunities for the babies to touch, cuddle (and occasionally smell!) elements of the world we have created for them. This means ensuring that all our materials are safe and age appropriate, with guidance for parents and carers too. We enjoy being able to break down the barriers between performer and audience as the little ones are encouraged to hold or feel the floating leaves or fuzzy bees.

As well as the sensory input, we focus on the developmental milestones for our target audiences.  As you can imagine, these change dramatically within the first two years of a baby’s life, and we have to be mindful of that, making sure all ages are catered for.  For each particular show, we look at a range of these milestones, and decide what we want to focus on.  We then add in a variety of exciting opportunities for the babies to realise these development points. For example;

  • Object tracking could be following the kite-bird around the space from one side to the other
  • Hand-eye coordinationmight become posting coloured pom poms into the correct bucket, and
  • Speech and language skillsmight be a simple, melodic rhyme that is repeated so that the audience can join in with our performers.

And our performersare of course, another crucial element.  We work with exceptional and experienced performers who understand that providing theatre for babies means making sure that every individual part is of the very highest quality.  As well as actors we also employ facilitatorswhose job it is to ensure the smooth running of the show, making sure the audience have everything they need, so that the actors can concentrate on performing.  With baby wipes, changing mats and colouring for older siblings at the ready, our facilitators are a crucial ingredient to the success of our shows.

Of course, the babies don’t bring themselves to the theatre and it’s equally important to us that parents, grandparents and carers are welcomed with as much thought and care as the babies themselves.  We understand what it can be like to venture out of the house with one, two, or more babies or very young children (we have eight children between us!) – wondering where you can leave your buggy / what about the nappies / feeding / sick / screaming / and what about all the bags!!

Happily, venues also see the benefits of encouraging babies, along with their families, into their theatres as they look for new ways to grow both their current and future audiences, and so we work closely with them to provide welcoming spaces where parents and carers feel able to relax and enjoy the theatre experience with their babies.   We operate a ‘relaxed’ system for all of our shows so that parents and children are free to move in, out and around the performance space as they wish.  Seeing all of the audiences – babies and grown-ups alike – relaxed and enjoying what is, for a lot of them, their first family theatre experience, makes all our research, development and hard work completely worth it; happy faces all around!