On making theatre specifically for kids below the age of 2

Children at such an early age can still decide to stop paying attention, which is the harshest criticism of all

A stage production put together specifically for babies sounds like a cutesy or unruly affair. But the players of Just Here, a 30-minute stage performance geared towards kiddies aged 0-24 months, have found the magic formula. They do it through clever storytelling.

The production addresses children in ‘transitive’ spaces, such as those in foster care. And it follows the story of an unnamed, genderless baby who is hospitalised and ventures into their own mind to find wonder and happiness. It speaks about the power and shelter of one's imagination in uncertain times.

The theatre piece was part of the Rocking the Cradle festival that took place at Magnet Theatre in Observatory, Cape Town. The festival formed part of the larger Cradle of Creativity Performing Arts for Children and Young People

We spoke with one of the brains behind the show, Merryn Carver, who designed the lead puppet. She gave us her thoughts about performance art for pre-verbal children – a kind of storytelling which is still finding its feet in South Africa. At once a seamstress and puppet-maker, Carver wants to hone her skills to start building mechanical features into her puppets so as to make them more life-like and complex.

According to the two shadow actors who animate the little protagonist, Asanda and Rosh, the trick is to avoid underestimating the intelligence of the young onlookers (as children at such an early age can still decide to stop paying attention), and to communicate the story through gestures and not words. They use a variant of bunraku performance, a traditional Japanese form of puppet theatre in which multiple actors work together to bring a character to life.