It’s bank holiday weekend and the last day of the annual cultural festival that our city hosts. Our daughter has been to quite a few shows, tickets the gifts of friends who know that she loves spectacle and live performance. She’s seen dance, physical theatre, music. We’ve seen lots of street acts as well. It’s been a great year.
Yesterday we went to a performance by a slam poet/story teller. The blurb in the programme said it was suitable for age 7 and up, a family show for children and adults alike. Our daughter is 25. I couldn’t tell you what her mental age is. It depends on the context. People often ask us that question in a round about way. They don’t want to offend or upset us but it seems they need to know. We gave up thinking like that years ago. I guess we know by now how she ticks and what she likes.
Guidelines can sometimes be helpful though when choosing an activity. Too young and it’s not engaging enough. And little children charging around can be stressful to her and ruin her concentration. Too old and it passes her by. Subtext and in jokes aren’t for everybody. Sometimes you just never know what will hit the spot and what may not seem appropriate simply is. And vice versa. We felt this show was worth a try at least and as usual, ensured we could make a discreet exit if necessary.
It was essentially the retelling of an old fairy tale about the meaning of life. There was music, smoke and mirrors, lots of rhyme and rhythm, some reflective audience participation. The story teller was charming and dryly humorous. His message was clear: don’t wish your life away, make the most of what you have, be in the moment as much as you can.
We were transfixed by him but aware that our daughter’s attention wandered at times and she seemed more interested in watching the people around her than focusing on the matter in hand. Perhaps for her the audience’s reaction meant more than the nuts and bolts of the performance. And to be fair, there were a lot of words.
Today we chanced upon more free family entertainment on the seafront as we strolled in the sun. A parting gift from the festival organisers. There was a play about a collector of objects, the stage area littered with bicycle wheels and spare parts, wooden chests, suitcases and bags. We started to watch but moved on after a while as there was too much going on and we’d missed the beginning. If we were confused, then our daughter was completely mystified. She looked away and made it clear she was not interested.
A Punch and Judy booth stood empty, awaiting an audience for the 3 o’clock slot. Our girl would have loved to see this, the exaggerated comedic interplay between the characters appealing completely to her slapstick sense of humour. Unfortunately there was no shade and it was just too long to hang around in the beating sun. Such a shame. Another time, another year, another seaside town perhaps.
Next we watched a short performance by a couple of dancers from a troupe we’d seen before. Our girl didn’t take her eyes off them. Like us she seemed to find them captivating. Their synchronicity, grace and strength as they moved around the space holding each other up and separating themselves again and again told a moving story against a hypnotising backdrop of sound. Be there for each other but be prepared to go your own way, they told us. No words necessary.
As we turned to go homewards, another performance was starting. A call went out for volunteers to join in and become part of the show. All ages welcome. Children rushed to the front, the younger ones with parents in hand. On another day we might have pushed forward with our daughter in her chair but she was getting tired. I turned to my partner and said that I would have loved to have been part of a show like this when I was a child. And then I stepped forward. Our daughter looked on as I danced away, a smile on her face.