ROCKET AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS By David Craig (Roseneath). Opens Sunday (June 8) and runs to June 15 at Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People (165 Front East). 416-872-1111.
SANCTUARY SONG By Abigail Richardson and Marjorie Chan (Tapestry/Theatre Direct). Opens Friday (June 6) and runs to June 14 at Berkeley Street Downstairs (26 Berkeley). 416-872-1111. See Openings. Rating: NNNNN
Playwright David Craig is all geared up to fight monsters. And he’s ready to take young audiences along with him.
Craig’s family show Rocket And The Queen Of Dreams, in which a child conquers his fear of nightmares, is part of Luminato, and Craig couldn’t be happier.
“It’s important that a festival that defines itself by means of art and creativity includes the creative arts for children,” notes Craig, artistic director of the award-winning Roseneath Theatre. “To ignore that element would be ageist and short-sighted.”
The show begins in a familiar locale, a child’s bedroom. The young Rocket doesn’t want to go to sleep without a comforting story; he’s scared of his dreams. Father offers a military way to deal with his nightmare monsters, while mother suggests positive thoughts and conciliation.
While the parents are played by actors, Rocket is a three-dimensional puppet (by Anne Powell and Johan Vandergun) and most of the action takes place in a shadow-puppet dream world created by David Powell.
“I’ve discovered that I love puppets as much as children do,” says Craig on a rehearsal break. “Their abstract nature means you can discuss powerful issues and strong emotions more easily than in real life.
“Dealing with monsters in a shadow world has turned out to be an ideal way of handling fear. In the school research we did, we found that everyone – even the boys – has woken up so scared from a nightmare that they’ve been unable move.”
This first collaboration between Craig and the Powells, of the Puppetmongers, has proven successful.
“Exploring the world of dreams through shadow theatre has turned out to be the perfect choice,” says Craig. “It’s even better than film, because it has all the imaginative scope of a big-budget movie and all the intimacy and charm of live theatre.”
And don’t think the show is just for kids. Craig always includes an adult element in his works; here, it’s the contrasting ways the parents suggest dealing with monsters. Craig hints that these tactics help us cope with monsters in both our waking and dream worlds.
If Rocket explores our fantasy lives, another show for kids, Sanctuary Song, is based on a real-life event: a trainer accompanies an aging elephant to a Tennessee wildlife sanctuary.
In composer Abigail Richardson and librettist Marjorie Chan’s opera, the elephant, a female named Sydney, recalls a life that includes happy memories of Asia and more painful experiences in a circus and a zoo.
“Marjorie suggested the story when we collaborated in Tapestry New Opera Works’ 2003 Lib Lab series,” recalls Richardson, affiliate composer with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. “Lynda Hill of Theatre Direct Canada saw our short piece and watched how kids were affected by it.”
The result, a collaboration between Tapestry and Theatre Direct, uses two singers, two actors and three musicians.
Richardson’s always been involved in linking story and music, and finds in opera the perfect blend of the two.
“Music handles emotion so well,” she adds. “It can suggest something beneath the text, offering a rich play on language. In Sanctuary Song, for instance, the word ‘dream’ can mean either a beautiful time in the jungle or a memory tinged with sadness and bitterness. It’s the music that cues the audience’s response.”
Recognizing with Craig the importance of involving young viewers in a play’s action, Richardson has included audience participation in Sanctuary Song.
“I not only want viewers to feel for Sydney, I want them to be right there with her.”
Xin Wang, soprano (as Sydney, the elephant) Alvin Crawford, bass (as James, her keeper) Michael Schulte on violin Lizzie Lavado on piano Ryan Scott on percussion And Wayne Strongman is conducting.