'Travelling Tales'

Streaming through Toronto's Young People's Theatre

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Joe Szekeres

Three charmingly traditional stories narrated with confidence and poise by polished actors

If young people are intrigued with teachers creatively incorporating theatrical and dramatic elements in daily lesson plans, I firmly believe children and youth can develop an appreciation of the live performing arts. Mind you, it’s a challenge for teachers to do this as it requires consistency in planning for specific outcomes and goals. As a retired schoolteacher myself who taught elementary school Core French, dramatic elements were certainly needed to maintain student attention span and interest.

What better way to begin this journey for young children than by using the art of traditional storytelling?

Young People’s Theatre is now streaming three unique tales from the West African, Mohawk, and French-Canadian cultures. During my undergraduate studies in French language and literature, I had read several traditional stories of the Québecois culture, so I had a slight advantage in that respect. I was looking forward to the West African and Mohawk stories.

And pure enjoyment of story telling was finely accomplished thanks to script writer and director Hélène Ducharme’s vision not to lose sight of what specifically needed to be accomplished – just tell a good story, or in this case three separate ones enmeshed within the Canadian mosaic of people. I especially appreciated the delightful opening where we are introduced to the travelling show motif where actors in history would go from town to town to tell stories in the square. Lovely way to begin the production especially if the audience is young as the actors incorporate moments of audience participatory movement.

The three stories presented here are ‘Baobab’ of West African culture, ‘Otjiera and the Fasting Ceremony’ of the Mohawk people and ‘The Bewitched Canoe/La chasse-galerie’ of the French-Canadian people. If you wish to see this story told in French, artist Stéphan Côté will perform.

I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed at all in the theatrical presentation of these stories. Marco Collin, Sharon James, and Jon Lachlan Stewart are skilled artists who confidently narrated their stories with creative ease and imaginative conviction. In our personal entertainment world of CGIs and instant gratification, these actors had a formidable task ahead of them to grab my attention span and keep it focused.

They attained that goal of maintaining my attention.

If I enjoyed this production streamed, I’m sure it is wonderful to experience live.
Oh, please, let’s get back to the theatre soon...

I digress.

In any event and on top of that, all three tales incorporated the use of puppetry. I’ve always been fascinated with the use of marionettes and puppets to tell stories. There are some quick, slight handed movements by the artists in manipulating the puppets. In addition, it was believably appropriate for the artists to use their vocal talents to give the marionette a specific voice. One thing that I have learned – puppetry is not necessarily meant just for children. Ronnie Burkett comes to my mind.

Each of the artists wore traditional clothing of their culture to tell their stories. As these three tales are meant for young children, I thought it was very important to ensure children are aware of as many cultures and languages in Canada.

Final Comment: It’s so important that theatre lovers never lose sight of the fact from where the theatre came. Actors who could just tell a darn good story and keep an audience’s attention span.

This ‘Travelling Tales’ does that especially if you have young children. Check the website. Schools can order online, and families can also order for home viewing.

Charming, delightful, and imaginative are three words that come to my mind. See ‘Travelling Tales’ with kids and from their perspective.

Running Time: approximately 60 minutes. Recommended for Ages 5-9 and Senior Kindergarten to Grade 4.

TRAVELLING TALES streaming to February 18, 2022.
Produced by Théâtre Motus
Written and directed by Hélène Ducharme
Performers: Marco Collin, Sharon James, John Lachlan Stewart and Stéphan Côté
English and French versions now available for individual and classroom use.
For further information, please visit the Young People’s website: www.youngpeoplestheatre.org

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