“Now then Raph” I said to my co-star the day before we were due to present the latest Story Storks theatre show, “I feel I have to warn you about what might happen when you’re on stage dressed as a pirate.”
He looked at me, bemused. “How wrong can it go. Kids love pirates”
I have learned much over the Story Storks years. Time to impart some wisdom.
I chose the story of the first birthday party that I did. I was asked to tell the story of St George and the Dragon at the birthday party of a customer. The boy loved Story Storks. The mum was a super fan. Other super fans would be at the party. I wasn’t sure it would work but I would be surrounded by super fans so regardless I knew I’d have a lovely time. Also this particular mum is one of the best cake makers I’ve ever known – it was worth it for the cake.
I turned up at the party to be confronted by 25 knights, all aged 4, and 2 princesses. Undeterred I pushed on with my story. It went well. We covered the basics. George was born in Coventry, a witch stole him, she had a vision that he would be one of the seven champions of christiandom and off he went. But then he settled down on the edge of Selene. All fine. The kids loved it. They were totally into the story. If we were at drama school the teachers would be proud of their ‘commitment’ to the role. And then I got dressed up as the dragon. Twenty five knights took out their sword and attacked me. The super fans were horrified! Knights were being pulled off and stuck in naughty corners all over the party. I was on the floor, mostly because I was laughing. The sword were made of foam so the attack wasn’t very effective. Later on I was served the largest slice of cake I’ve ever seen. I ate it all!
But I learnt something that day. Nowadays I normally say something before I dress up as a dragon along the lines of “please don’t attack me”. I also no longer do parties.
We concluded that, should a child start attacking Raphael, we would stop the show and call upon the parent of the assailant to intervene. Sometimes this approach doesn’t work but we were confident that with an audience of 125 all looking at the child…. It would!
On with the show! We had a ball. We played pirates brilliantly and our audience loved it. We invited them to talk to us and half way through we found they were so into it we couldn’t shut them up! Not that I’m complaining – that’s exactly what we wanted. Then came the final scene, where good and evil finally collide. In our case this was Long John Silver vs Jim Hawkins, or to put it another way Raph having a fight with a puppet! The fight music kicked in, the kids shuffled to the front of their seats and we were off.
One kid however, a little girl dressed as Sky from Paw Patrol, was up on her feet when the evil pirate started to attack the puppet. How dare he? She yelled at the pirate and starts making her way onto the stage.
“Oh good god” I thought to myself “Sky from Paw Patrol is going to attack Long John Silver. This isn’t the ending I wrote!” I try not to laugh.
I have no idea what her Dad was thinking but the look on his face suggested “oooooooo”! He’d allowed her to sit right at the front and sat a few rows further back himself meaning that he wasn’t blocking the view for another child. It was thoughtful seating. I liked it. He had put his trust in her, knowing her to be a good girl. She would behave. Now she’s about to launch her own rescue mission for a seriously distressed puppet. He’s up out of his seat and dashing down the aisle to stop her. He’s not going to make it in time!
Despite desperately wanting to see how it would pan out, I told the girl to sit down. She didn’t. She couldn’t. She was too concerned for the fate of Jim Hawkins who, for her, was no longer a puppet but a real life boy. But she stood by her seat long enough for her Dad to get there. He finally managed to coax her back down.
She was glued for the rest of the show and then when we sang the goodbye song she and her 4 friends danced like crazy in their seats.
By the time I got back out to do the meet and greet she had gone which is a real shame because I would loved to have said thank-you to her. Children don’t do polite clapping and if they’re bored they just wander off. It’s the absolute honesty of their reaction that makes them, for me anyway, the best kind of audience to work with. Sky was so moved by the story I wrote she was ready to walk on stage and attack a grown man. In my world there is no higher praise.
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SARAH CANTRILL is a woman on a mission to inspire every young child to become a reader for pleasure. She is the Artistic Director & Founder of STORY STORKS, a social enterprise that delivers interactive story workshops to early years children and their grown ups, that help kids to fall in love with stories and develop their early language skills meaning that they have an easier time of learning to read when the time is right. Infact 85% of the kids who come through STORY STORKS are right where they should be or ahead in terms of progression through the reading book scheme once they get to school and the ones who are behind are trying hard because they know that it’s worth it – that to read is to unlock a whole world of fun and adventure and learning and imagination and they might take a bit longer to get there but they’re determined that get there they will.