It’s not often that you go to a Q&A after a play, let alone a Shakespeare comedy, and hear questions like “why did you pick bears and cats to be couples?” or “why doesn’t the alligator get married?”
Yes, you heard me right: it’s Shakespeare and stuffies. Called “table top” puppetry, it’s actually not that different from what we do with our kids when we make their toys walk, talk and tell funny stories.
I first saw the show when it debuted in 2009. My children were 6 and 3 at the time, and though I was enthralled with the show, I was equally fascinated by the children’s reaction to it. See, I was trying to be the “right” kind of mom, taking my kids to see the Bard and hopefully exposing them to more culture than yogurt tubes. Right from the get go they were engaged and involved with the story, more so than I’d seen them do at any other show.
So the question is why? Why did this strike such a chord? Mike and Jane agree that there is something about using stuffies that’s instantly relatable for kids. It’s something they do every day, so instead of going to a theatre, it’s more like coming into a giant playroom.
Although it’s abridged to fit a children’s timeslot, Mike and Jane chose not to change any of the text. It’s funny because I’d forgotten that when I went back to see a remount of the show in Toronto earlier this week.
Says Mike “It was absolutely always our intention to retain the language, because that was the point of the experiment. We’ve shortened the play, but we have not paraphrased.”
Jane adds “We don’t expect the kids to get every word, or even every phrase, so if we can just introduce them to this beautiful language, and it be a positive introduction, then that turns me on. I adore Shakespeare, the language is so rich, and it’s so well written that sometimes, even if they don’t totally understand it, the sound of it is the same as the meaning. The words that they’re using convey something on a visceral level.”
Mike goes further saying “this show kills several birds with the same stone. It’s a puppet show, it’s As you Like It, which we had done in university and always loved, and it was taking an artistic risk… And, I like the wrestling orangutan.”
To be honest, the show is physically so well-articulated, that most of the time you forget Jane and Mike are even on stage. Plus, I kind of have a crush on the leading man, er, bear.
But is it important for our children to see and know Shakespeare? It’s a question I asked a bunch of mums in the playground and surprisingly they all said the same thing. Yes. One mother went further explaining that it’s the basis for our language and culture.
What do you think?
As You Puppet continues in Toronto till the 21st of April, then heads to Stratford’s Spring Works Indie Theatre Festival in May.