Creativity-in-Toe: A tour for young audiences

by Mary Margaret Moore


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String is a work of theater and dance, created in 2011.  In 2010, I leapt into a new collaborative relationship with writer and director Isabelle Kessler, with the intent to create a show for very young children.  We committed to simplicity and play, not allowing ourselves to venture into the territory of technology.  The idea continued to take shape with a minimalist set design and color palette.  Our tools were our own bodies and improvisations, and a few simple and well-known objects: paper bags, string, an egg, a feather, a boot and a toy chick. 

The Show: String

String is about the power of the imagination.  Key, the character I play, steps onto a blank canvas into a realm that invites her to follow her curiosity-- the first of which is a huge canvas bundle.  Opening the bundle is both a simple act, and a courageous leap into the unknown.   As Key discovers and plays in the world around her, she is also faced with the full spectrum of feelings she holds within her.  Metaphor, dance, and ritual emerge.  The audience is given the space and time to ask themselves what is happening, and what they are feeling. 

I'll share a couple of audience comments, two of so many favorites:

“You just never know what is going to happen tomorrow!”     - a 5-year-old audence member

"A lot of the time we impose limitations on what kids can say, do, act out or think, and we place limitations on what we perceive as ‘safe’ or ‘appropriate.’  The complete freedom of this show, with so much room to fill in the blanks with imagination—we, both kids and adults, need more of this in our lives.  It provides a place where we can feel free to problem solve and to accept that there may be many solutions and no ‘problem’ at all."     - a teen-age camp counselor

What drove our process was a desire to create something that would speak to children with honesty.  We wanted young audiences to be the pilots of their own discovery within the show, instead of delivering to them a story with crafted morals, or explaining to them what they should understand.   We wanted to engage them, not by getting their attention with something spectacular, fantastic, or funny, but by speaking to their deepest curiosity—their eagerness to decipher meaning in the world around them.

The many audiences that have seen String so far have shown that they are eager to be presented with these challenges.  Even the most wiggly of children sit wide-eyed for the duration of the 35-minute show.   Following the show, we have a conversation about the experience.  We have questions for each other, ideas to share, and we take the time to explore the unique experience of being a spectator and part of an audience. 

The Creativity-in-Toe Tour

This project, Creativity-in-Toe, is about sharing String with more audiences.  I will travel to meet audiences who might not otherwise become familiar with live performance, either because of lack of programing in their area or because of financial limitation.  My goal is to fund 25 free shows within King County.

I have already begun coordinating with a host of organizations within King County that work to support the lives and development of children.  Some of these entities will offer organizational support, some will provide a space for the performance, and others have existing programs for children and will add String into their programming. 

Some of the organizations I am working with include:

ROCKit Community Arts

Soundbridge Seattle Symphony Music Discovery Center

Neighborhood House

Vashon Family and Child Services

Denise Louie Early Childhood Development

El Centro de la Raza

In addition, I have been awarded an Individual Artist Grant from King County’s Arts & Culture funding body, 4Culture, specifically to fund the Creativity-in-Toe tour.  This grant has enabled me to go ahead and get started with the project and provides half of the budget I will need to achieve the full scope of a 25 show tour.  My work on the tour is well underway and will begin in February 2014.  The 25 shows have the potential to reach an audience of 1,000 children in addition to their parents, teachers and caregivers.   

My Request for Your Support 

My fundraising goal is $7,600.  This funding, along with the 4Culture grant, provides a budget for these major areas: 

Administrative work / Tour organizing

An artist fee for each performance

A production and documentation assistant

Travel expenses

Show maintenance

Design and printing

Occasional space rental 

I have set a minimum goal of $4000 to insure that the tour will happen at some level (a minimum of 15 shows).  If I don’t reach the $7600 goal, the tour will still happen, but I will have to scale back the number of shows, and be more limited in the choices I can make about how and where to tour the show.  If I should raise more than $7600, I will expand the number of performances.  Because the infrastructure of the tour will already be funded and in place, any funds over my goal will go directly towards Artist fee, Travel expense, and my Production Assistant.   

Thank You 

My current direction as a performing artist, and my inquiry into movement of the body and our development and functioning as human beings, owes much to the fertile ground I have discovered through my collaboration with Isbelle Kessler and the performance of "String." 

My deepest gratitude for choosing to support my desire to engage young children in the dialog that art offers us.

For Further Exploration

String's website

Isabelle Kessler & Loren Kahn Puppet & Object Theatre

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