Over a two year period, 33 children (ages 5 to 11) were interviewed and shared their thoughts about love and relationships. Their verbatim responses have been re-contexualized as scenes and monologues performed by adults. This is CHILD-ISH, a work-in-progress by creator Sunny Drake. The first stage of its development is presented here for SummerWorks 2019.
Proudly out-of-tune, our adult performers (Walter Borden, Maggie Huculak, Sonny Mills, Zorana Sadiq, Itir Arditi) arrive on stage haphazardly blowing unrestrained air into wind instruments. Their enthusiasm is what sells it: this playfully abstract representation of our journey from cradle to cane as an off-beat improvisation. And it rings joyfully true—the attempt at music and the stilted, unrefined results. This will not be perfect—the idea hangs in the air as the final off-key note is played—but perhaps it will be amusing.
And, yes, what follows is very amusing, often hilarious. Much of the humour lies in juxtaposition: hearing children’s bold, naive thoughts coming from the mouths of seemingly sophisticated adults. The concept works best, though, when the lines between childhood and adulthood are blurred. There are brief, stunning moments when the child-like thoughts feel uncomfortably familiar to an adult like myself. As adults, our thoughts are frequently less refined that we’d like to believe; we’ve learned to hide those thoughts, to shame ourselves and each other, and over-think ourselves into neurotic oblivion.
Drake and his young dramaturgical team have crafted a series of adult scenes with children’s statements as dialogue. A psychiatrist attempting to understand the convoluted love triangle between three friends, a helicopter mother hovering above an awkward first date, an intervention of friends trying to end an unhealthy relationship: These feel familiar as adult phenomena, but the disarmingly honest and guileless conversations are delightfully jarring. More deeply, though, they force us to reframe our understanding of these situations.
Most of the content is light-hearted and whimsical, though we are dipped into heavier, darker scenarios with topics such as death and consent. In one episode, we are drawn into the tormented psyche of a character who is struggling to understand and reconcile their love for a partner who doesn’t respect—and has violated—their intimate, personal space.
As entertaining as these scenes are, the format did start to feel a little tiresome—especially the ensemble bits. Each of these disconnected vignettes have beautiful, touching moments, but as a whole the work seems to be missing some crucial, deeper, unifying element.
Going forward, Drake and company plan to expand this piece to include more dynamic and meaningful interaction between children and adults and so develop this multi-generational exploration. The full potential of the concept is vaguely hinted at in the final moments of this presentation, where some children arrive to share the stage with their adult counterparts. Monica Dotter provides some simple yet evocative movement between them that was actually the most moving part of the show for me.
I look forward to the finished work as I think it will offer even more intriguing, dynamic content that is sketched-out here, though this is certainly an enjoyable presentation in itself. Even with the performers still with scripts in hand, there are vivid and clearly defined characters and plenty of feels.