Went to see Hairy Maclary and Friends at the Opera House Playhouse. A much younger audience than we’re aiming for, obviously, but lots of fun. I find I am already assessing shows differently. As a scriptwriter, I’ve always tended to analyse how a theatre production is put together – in fact, my sister won’t go to the theatre or movies with me anymore because she says I spoil the illusion by dissecting ‘how they did it’ afterwards! But my focus has been on what you might call the storytelling aspects of the craft. Now I find I’m looking more closely at staging and costs.
For example, the Hairy Maclary show has seven cast members. That’s big for a kids’ show, but was forced on them by the books. They had to have all the dogs on stage at once, because the stories require that. That makes six actors, plus at least one human (Miss Plum). Although the dog actors take other parts (Sam Stone, Schnitzel Von Krumm’s family, bees), it’s still quite a hefty cast for a one-hour production. This means that the ticket cost is quite high: between $29 and $49. That might not seem a lot compared to an adult play, but imagine if you have four kids – for the good seats, that’s $245; for the worst seats, it’s still $145. A lot to pay for an hour. I’d love to know if other venues charge as much for this show, because the Opera House can charge a premium.
There was also live music – a guy on a keyboard, who also operated a bubble machine at the end. Now this was interesting – not having pre-recorded music allowed the actors to interact more with the audience, as this show was very much the ‘behind you, behind you!’ style of kids’ performance, where there is no fourth wall and the kids are part of the action. With pre-recorded music, it would be very hard to do a lot of this, it seems to me. Less improvisation is not necessarily a bad thing, however.
The stage design was beautifully flexible. Nothing came down out of the flies except some spiders, who could just as easily have been on a long pole. So the show doesn’t need a proscenium arch theatre. The scene changes were done by the on-stage cast rolling scenery around or pulling it out. Simple and effective and completely acceptable to an audience raised on Playschool, which does the same thing even more simply. You could stage this on a dais in a shopping mall; you could stage it in theatre in the round; you could stage it in a church hall; you could stage it in a school playground, if you had to.
So much to think about!