Why this story?
Loy, who has more than 15 years of theatre experience, is currently actively reaching out to young audiences as a part of Esplanade’s Associate Artist Programme. Loy was attracted to how Rochee: The Friendliest Cockroach reflects the pressing need for society to empathise with and accept diversity. It is a story of how what seems to be unlovable can be beloved, as well as befriended. Certainly, his intentions could be felt by the audience and hearts were touched! If you are interested in more of his works, check them out at on their Facebook Page and website.
It wouldn’t be a Playtime production without catering to the enthusiasm of young children aged 2-4. Loy had purposefully designed the space to be "accessible" for both parents and children. Unlike conventional theatre settings where audiences typically sit in one place and passively absorb whatever that is happening on stage, children in the audience were free to roam around the Esplanade Theatre Studio. The black box was warmly lit and the set was covered in brightly coloured and soft velvet-like fabric.
The audience section was divided into three differently coloured triangles, which were cleverly weaved into the set and performance space. Cheryl Kim, the actress who portrayed Glenny, as well as Venytha Yoshiantini, who portrayed the role of Rochee, personally introduced themselves to the audience. They even roused the young ones with warm-up dances and sing-alongs. Thus, the audience was well primed to enjoy the performance. During the performance, the audience were encouraged to freely sing and dance along with the artists on stage, and even contribute to some of the sound effects.
My 13-year-old son, who is on the Autism spectrum, is generally slow to warm up to situations. Thus, he was not particularly excited about the play and barely participated in the actors’ attempt to engage him. At least he didn’t leave mid-way through the play! Still, most of the audience were cheerfully engaged and charmed, though the sudden light and sound effects did leave some children in mild discomfort. Overall, a big thumbs up to the production team and cast members!
Wailing Kids? Fret not!
Naturally, when the lights were dimmed at the start of the play, some little ones panicked and started to cry or whimper. Fortunately, Playtime production had the foresight to include a ‘calm down corner’ just outside of the studio, so parents can take their children there for some sensory fun if they experience discomfort in the studio. The corner comprises floor mats, comfy cushions and even a tent for exploration. In addition, one need not worry about missing too much of the performance – a printable story of the performance timeline is available for downloading on site, and it even includes audio versions of the songs.
According to the Head of the Children and Youth Program for the Esplanade, Miss Chua Lik Ling, the Esplanade has conceived ‘Playtime’ as an attempt to reach out to young audiences aged 2 to 4 years old. Since early 2016, Playtime has been performing productions that encourage audience interaction and sensory play. The production teams have actively conducted extensive research as well as consul with Occupational Therapists, parents and teachers of special needs children in order better cater to their audience’s needs.
Other children’s events by the Esplanade
Many years ago, to encourage more children to explore the performing arts, the Esplanade has launched ‘Beautiful Sunday’. This is a generous arrangement of free performances once a month at the Esplanade, some of which are especially catered for people with special needs. More information can be found here.
Look out for ‘Octoburst!’ – a series of performances to be produced in October in conjunction with Children’s Day. The shows will feature performances by young, aspiring local artists, including those from special needs communities such as Pathlight School which is catered to students with autism and Y-Stars, a school catered to students with Down Syndrome.