The story appears on

Page B2

May 20, 2016

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Supplement » Children's Day

Entertaining babies is more than just kid’s play

CHILDREN’S theater has long been a feature of the entertainment spectrum, but a surprising twist to that is emerging in China — productions for toddlers three years and younger.

At the Shanghai Children’s Arts Theater recently, the Danish troupe Aaben Dans-Roskilde performed “Baby Space.”

On stage, dancers interacted with their young audiences to gentle music and changing lights.

“I was surprised to discover there were theaters for babies,” says Sara Chen, 31, who attended the show with her 9-month-old son. “I don’t remember any theater until I was in elementary school. My son seemed to really enjoy ‘Baby Space.’ He didn’t cry once.”

Last year, the Lithuanian production “Puzzle” that was held at the same venue also drew large audiences of mothers and babies.

Responding to the popularity of the trend, the theater has increased the number of stages devoted to children under three from two to 11 this year. Performances for that age group will comprise about a quarter of productions this year.

The Arts Space for Kids has opened at LifeHub@Daning as a mini-theater for the very young. Its theater performances encourage the participation of toddlers.

Founder and artistic director Forrina Chen says tickets sold even better than those for performances for older children.

“It may be that older children are often preoccupied with various extracurricular classes on weekends,” says Chen. “But I think it’s also the case that many parents realize how early exposure to arts and theater can benefit a baby’s development.”

Liang Xiaoxiang, president of Shanghai Children’s Arts Theater, says tickets for under-three performances always sell out quickly in advance.

These performances expose the very young to sound, color and space experiences. The ability to stimulate the minds of babies in their first two years is greater than many people think, according to Thomas Eisenhardt, artistic director of the Danish troupe Aaben Dans-Roskilde. He is also the director of the production “Again,” mounted for children from four months to six years. It will be staged this weekend at the Children’s Arts Theater.

Eisenhardt says he was taken by the idea of theater for young children after he watched his then five-week-old son mesmerized by a Christmas show rehearsal about 18 years ago. He studied research on infant psychology, which led to his devoting his artistic career to children’s theater.

When he started his first productions for babies in 2008, Eisenhardt says he wasn’t aware of any similar productions anywhere. Nowadays, such theaters are gaining popularity in Europe. He attributes the change to new ways of looking at babies.

“Babies were traditionally viewed as humans-to-be instead of humans,” he says. “But actually, they have the same nerve system as adults do, which means that they can sense things like rhythm, excitement and surprise just like grown-ups.

“The only thing they lack is probably language. Therefore, a baby can follow a story without narrative,” he adds.

The trend is at the early stages of catching on in Shanghai.

Most domestic children’s theater productions in China are created for youngsters five years and older, focusing on plots and narrative lines, according to Liang with the Children’s Arts Theater. All productions that have been staged so far for children under three, at both the arts theater and the Arts Space for Kids, have come from overseas.

High production costs and uncertainly about box office have held back domestic organizations from entering the field.

One basic requirement for infant theater is an intimate setting, with no more than 70 seats.

Then too, many children’s theater directors aren’t familiar with the child psychology behind productions for the very young. They are still wedded to the tradition of children’s shows with distinctive characters and plots that deliver moral messages. Such an approach doesn’t work with an audience of limited language skills.

“While most adults are preoccupied by concepts in their lives, babies learn about the world through their senses and experiences,” says Eisenhardt.

Dalija Acin Thelander, director of “Baby Space,” says it isn’t necessarily true that babies have only limited attention spans.

“They see everything, hear everything, taste everything,” she says. “If a baby looks at you and then quickly turns away, it’s simply a sign that it doesn’t believe you have any more information to impart. So their attention moves to some place they think they can find new information. I believe artists need to understand the nature of a baby’s brain and behavior.”

In her work, Thelander creates a space where everything supports a baby’s effort to focus its attention, rather than distracting it. The babies are free to move within the space and follow their own interests and needs. They can look at how the dancers are arranged, but they do not have to.

“I believe that art should propose something for babies the same as it does for adults,” Thelander says.

As a pioneer in the industry, the Arts Space for Kids is preparing the first domestic infant theater production, to be staged this October. A version of “Baby Space,” it was created by Thelander working with Chinese artists.

“I have a five-year-old daughter of my own, and I understand how parents want to give their children the best experiences possible,” says Chen with the Arts Space for Kids. “Still, we aren’t sure whether we have a successful business model for such productions in China. We are taking a first step.”


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend