Daniela: I met Jain Boon in Poland, at The Little Warsaw Theatre Meetings, in 2011. Theatre is an inspirational place where people can become friends and share and build important things together. This also happened to us, especially after we had watched the beautiful play “8 O’Clock At The Ark” by Ulrich Hub, performed by Teatr Baj Pomorski and directed by Pawel Aigner.
We didn’t understand a word from the show, as it was performed in Polish, a language we didn’t know. However we had a great time. We empathised with the characters and followed through all their adventures. Not knowing the words, just guessing them, we had more time to analyse the acting style and the details of performance: what they did and why we laughed, and how they engaged the audience with positive feelings. We both considered that the acting was balanced, artful and respectful, in line with the play’s ideas and with the audience expectations from this kind of play. We concluded that “8 O’ Clock At The Ark” was a play with much comedy and also reflection.
Jain and I live at opposite sides of Europe. I live in Romania, a country of the former Iron Curtain, where things used to be really tough for 50 years, until 1989. Now Romania is a member of European Union, which means, among others, we can travel and take part in festivals more easily. Jain lives in Wales. Wales had a totally different type of historical experience as compared to Romania. Our different historical and cultural backgrounds gave us the impetus to conduct some research on Laughter in Theatre, for two main reasons: we love theatre for children and we have a beautiful friendship and communication across any barriers or boundaries. So, we responded to the call for papers on this topic from ASSITEJ in 2012.
At the festival in Poland we laughed and had a good time, but this didn’t happen all the time, at all the shows involving comedy, by which I mean, ‘good laughs’. Therefore we really wanted to reflect upon what ‘good laughs’ in theatre is, and if laughter really makes good theatre for all young ages or not. Like many important things in life sometimes we find laughter easy to speak about and, at the same time, rather difficult to define. Another thing that was a challenge for us was our intercultural perspective. We had to write the paper together, being away from each other, separated by space, precisely 5000km, but in an authentic and personal way, making use of our theatrical experience and also of our specific national context. Technology was an important factor in accomplishing this goal.
Theatre is universal, and they say that laughing is too. We wanted to analyse laughter in detail and see if this was 100% true scientifically, according to the rules of psychology and theatre. Theatre and laughing go well together, but we thought that there are times when this combination is really bad. We wanted to talk specifically about this too. We considered it important to determine a sort of good practice model for laughing in theatre. We especially needed this as both of us had often experienced poor laughter and bad comedy for children. We also wanted to do this because, as Jain put it, “It is more important right now to find the joy in the world. So many people are suffering and we must not allow ourselves to forget what makes us happy and what joins us together.”
Jain: We are currently living through some strange and chaotic times. I believe now is the time to turn to one another and to recognise our commonalities and to truly listen to one another.
When I met Daniela Miscov back in 2011 we came together through our love of theatre for children. On the outside you might say we have many differences but in the few days we were together we developed a deep bond between us that transcends any difference. We have maintained this relationship and know that we would support and work with each other at the drop of a hat, even though we are not in the same country.
One of the most important things for us is that we believe that theatre for children has to be the best it can be. Here there is no compromise. Theatre teaches us about the world and our place in it. Here we fight for equality, for the opportunity to discover we can be better human beings. We need a place to celebrate our individuality and our closeness and we need a place to laugh together, to discover that which ties us.
When the opportunity came up to work on this paper together we took this as a possibility to get to know each other better, to understand each other. We continue to collaborate in surprising and unusual ways.
Today, children have access to many forms of entertainment including gaming. Although games can and do teach us lots of strategies for negotiating our lives, they may also contain violent and aggressive behaviour.
- How might this effect children’s humour?
- Are they learning to laugh at, not with?
- Are they discovering how to gain power and control through the way these games are constructed?
This is what theatre is competing with as well as cuts to arts funding.
Through theatre, through watching close human interaction, children discover the joy of collective response, the power of infectious laughter and strength of unity through laughter …which has been proved countless times throughout recent history, that when we face adversity - whether it be political, financial, domestic , that‘gallows humour’ - the absurdity of the situation you find yourself in … is funny. In that very moment, there is power and strength in unity and recognition of the present.
Whilst in the UK we are free to lampoon and laugh at political figures, we understand that there are still places in the world where it is not possible to do this in public. Being in the theatre with others gives us a sense of togetherness.
Daniela: An audience of children laughing doesn’t necessarily make good theatre, but laughter is necessary in theatre for children. Laughing in theatre means comedy. When it comes to comedy in theatre for children we should take into consideration the age groups: what they like, understand and find funny from the psychological point of view. And this kind of information should be learnt by artists and professionals working in this field. Being funny is also a cultural concept, some aspects are general, others are specific and connected with the national or local context - and this is something that we analysed, from our cultural point of view, Welsh and Romanian.
We concluded by demonstrating that theatre has an obligation to the emotional intelligence of children. In this respect, humour has an educational value, showing a positive reaction to incongruities of life. Humour and intelligence go hand in hand and this is something children should see on stage too.
For us as theatre professionals, laughing in theatre means, most of all, a responsibility - as children tend to imitate what they see and learn from what we offer them. We are the best models they have. And, as Shakespeare put it some centuries ago and still true today, theatre is the mirror of society.
Daniela runs Artelier D, Proiecte pentru copii - a free art and education association whose mission is to bring stories to babies and children, on the basis of all Art languages: theatre, music, fine arts, visual arts. We are close to children in all ways and this closeness is the source of our inspiration.
Image Credits: All by Daniela Miscov except final image = http://makingkidslaugh.com/kids-laughing-while-learning