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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » January 31, 2013
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Theater for the Very Young
January 31, 2013   
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If you want to make sure the cultural education of your child starts early, come to the Old Town in Warsaw and check out an unusual theater for children as young as 12 months. The Theater of the Little Spectator is Poland’s first theater to regularly stage performances for such young children.

The theater is fully interactive in that everything is within the reach of a child’s hand. The small theater, which seats only 40 viewers, is located in the renovated basement of the Warsaw Center for Cultural Education and stages plays suitable for kids of 12 months and older. It was established 18 months ago as an initiative by Agnieszka Czekierda, a theater actor and director who also helped found the Konsekwentny Theater for adults.

The idea of setting up a theater for little children, the first of its kind in Warsaw, “came unexpectedly when I stumbled upon an article on a theater festival for the youngest viewers, Visioni di Futuro—Visioni di Teatro in Bologna, organized by the La Baracca Theater,” said Czekierda. “I was intrigued by the idea of staging performances for toddlers.”

This kind of artistic education for the youngest children has for years been available in Britain, Germany and Italy and now Polish children under four have a theater intended especially for them and a place where performances are tailored to suit their age and perception skills.

Since the target audiences are not regular theater viewers, the shows are different than for adults. “The lights never go out, there is no clean-cut boundary between the stage and the seats and our little viewers are naturally free to talk, babble, wriggle and trot around,” said Czekierda. “It is a safe theater where nothing happens abruptly, there is no loud music, no monsters or other creatures jumping out of nowhere. You will not see a fast-paced plot and whatever plots we have, rather than multi-layer stories, they are a pretext to get the children to play.”

The productions combine sound, simple imagery, light, colors, motion and play. Czekierda and her colleagues make sure to stimulate children’s imagination with simple and clear messages and the senses of smell and touch. Children are not made to sit quietly in their chairs and instead, they can settle on comfortable cushions, come up to the stage and be in the center of the action.

The theater boasts a selection of modern and ambitious plays based on good literature. “We leave Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and Pinocchio to other professionals,” said Czekierda. The actors use a language that is understandable to little children, as after all, adults are not the target audience here. Complicated characters, intricate plots and overwhelming imagery are considered redundant. “These are shows without any lofty missions, there is no pomp, complicated psychology and plots, because it is not what young children need,” Czekierda said. “Their thoughts are not linear, kids respond to stimuli.”

After each show, young viewers can touch the sets, explore the secrets of magical props and walk on the stage to play games with their parents and actors. “Children are essentially little explorers, they are at the very beginning of a long road and need to learn, touch and examine everything,” said Czekierda. “It didn’t take me long to stop feeling surprised to see how fascinated they were with colors, water, sand and other things that seemed ordinary to us adults.”

It is not unusual for the young viewers to join in an ongoing show, voice their opinions and respond to what they see on the stage. But such feedback is a sign of a child’s approval, proving that the show works and the theater staff have succeeded.

The Theater of the Little Spectator and similar art projects for the youngest audiences have an excellent effect on a child’s development and play an important educational role. They encourage perceptiveness, memory and logical thinking, and stimulate children’s artistic imagination and sensitivity.

“The first show, Untangling the Rainbow, was written at a nursery as a follow-up to my improvised games with young kids,” said Czekierda. “I can honestly say the kids really directed the play, showing me the way and a language of theater I never knew existed.”

Katarzyna Kaczmarek

Theater of the Little Spectator
Warsaw Center for Cultural Education, Children’s Stage

4 Jezuicka St., entrance from Brzozowa Street, Old Town, Warsaw
tel. +48 512-62-22-15; www.teatrmalegowidza.pl
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