Jan. 24, 2013 - Issue #901: Children can’t choose
When Jared Matsunaga-Turnbull was five, a budding Japanese-Canadian growing up in 1970s Regina, his mother came into class one day to teach them origami.
"This is before sushi was popular, before origami got into the cultural spotlight," he recalls. "So, on a personal level, it was empowering for me: 'Oh, that is part of my culture' ... But also, I've always been struck by how it's simple: it's this tiny, very simple piece of paper, and yet it can transform into something magical. And yet it can transform right before your very eyes, and also, we're able to do it. A group of five-year-olds were able to fold things.
"I don't think that I could articulate it then, but there was something empowering about being able to take something and make it into something else. It's magical."
That interest in the origami lasted as Matsunaga-Turnbull grew, and now, a theatre artist with a particular penchant in writing for young audiences with Concrete Theatre, he's combining that cultural touchstone with the stage in Paper Song.
It draws together the traditional folk tale of the Crane Wife (Decemberists fans, you know what's up), as well as that of a young mouse and her grandfather struggling against an oppressive tyrant. The design, thought up by Matsunaga-Turnbull and realized by Cory Sincennes, incorporates large-scale origami (how large? "Larger than life," Matsunaga-Turnbull jokes) in addition to shadow puppetry and a musical score by David Clarke.
"I've been working on this since 2009," he recalls. "I was commissioned to write a short play for Sprouts [Concrete Theatre's short new play festival]. So it started as a really short play, and I had an excuse to delve into origami.
"It was just too short," he adds, of its early incarnation. "But it gave me a really good springboard, a chance to expand it."
In its current form, set to tour schools after this weekend's public performances, Paper Song examines ideas of justice, fairness and transformation, both of paper as well as more personal, internal change. And when it comes to distilling these ideas for a varied audience—the term "theatre for young audiences" blankets a huge age range, from toddler to high school—Matsunaga-Turnbull's found over the years that a few ideas seem to make sense for even the youngest of any group.
"It's a wide spectrum: they're all in various development stages as well in terms of reaction to imagery, in terms of their own world experience, life experience," he says, of his young audiences. "But if there's one thing I know about doing this kind of work—as an actor, a director and a playwright—is they inherently have a sense of fairness. I don't know if they consider it to be justice, but that sense of, 'That's wrong. We need to change that, because it's wrong. People are getting hurt, it's unfair.' I think children understand that—and they understand not being listened to."
Fri, Jan 25 (2 pm);
Sat, Jan 26 (11 am & 2 pm)
Directed by Caroline Howarth
TransAlta Arts Barns, $12.50 – $18
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