Opera jewel sparkles for kids

Marjorie Brennan

Numerous research studies have shown that it’s never too early to introduce children to the arts. Graffiti Theatre

Company, based in Blackpool, Cork, are well aware of the benefits that artistic and creative activities have on children’s learning and development as a whole.

Their latest production, Seoid (Jewel), is billed as ‘an opera for babies and small people’, and is the last in a series of three large-scale productions for early years.

Síle Ní Bhroin is assistant director of the production, which features music from composer Fiona Kelleher and is performed by three professional singers. While opera is in general viewed as one of the more ‘high-brow’ art forms, Ní Bhroin says this shouldn’t be a factor in excluding a more youthful audience.

Síle Ní Bhroin of Seoid, by Graffiti.

“We believe in Graffiti that if a child is exposed to high-quality art, they will respond to it, that you shouldn’t be dumbing down performances — there is a way of making a performance age-appropriate without being patronising. This [production] doesn’t have the drama or pathos of many adult operas but it does have the emotional depth.

One of the things about opera is that really visceral and emotional connection. This has that… in a way, it deals with grief, but in a hopeful way. We are exposing those emotions through music.

Seoid, which is directed by Graffiti founder Emilie Fitzgibbon, is being staged as part of Cork Midsummer Festival and Cruinniú na nÓg, the national festival celebrating children and young people’s participation in culture and creativity.

Ní Bhroin agrees that the high level of interest and uptake in children’s arts events demonstrates the increasing demand for family-friendly productions.

Performances are tailored to accommodate the foibles of a younger audience. This also benefits parents, who can often avoid artistic performances because of a fear that their child won’t ‘behave’.

“We are not asking the parents to turn them into perfect little adult theatre-goers. We are completely accepting of the fact that it is a very different audience. They can be unpredictable and we welcome that,” says Ní Bhroin.

“They may move around, cry, laugh, sing back at the singers, they may want to leave the space, they may have something in their nappies that’s making them uncomfortable… that’s all fine. There is a space where the audience is seated; behind that there is a kind of a holding area…there is also a safe space outside that, with quilts and duvets, and books.

If there is a child who is overwhelmed by the proximity to other children or the stage and the lighting, they can hang out and listen from there.

Ní Bhroin says there are huge rewards in working on productions for a younger age group.

“There is no ‘fourth wall’ in any our early years pieces so the performers engage visually with the audience — and they all thrive on that. It is a lovely connection when a baby looks up at you or reaches out to you. That very intimate connection is something we are very committed to.”

Seoid/Jewel, An Opera for Babies and Small People, Jun 22-24, 11am and 2pm, Graffiti Theatre, Blackpool; www.corkmidsummer.com

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