mOOn ballOOn, a striking theatre piece directed by Ian Loy, opens on 4 to 6 October 2013 as part of Octoburst! – a Children’s Day Festival at Esplanade.
Little Day Out catches up with Director Ian Loy, Associate Producer Luanne Poh, actors Bright Ong and Seong Hui Xuan, and sound designers Serene Tan (aka Stan) and Joseph Chian (aka Soap) during one of their rehearsals to bring you an exclusive preview of the show and its creative process before the curtains rise.
What to Expect
One of six ticketed events for Octoburst!, mOOn ballOOn is unlike typical children’s theatre in so many ways. Don’t expect an elaborate and vibrant set, colourful costumes or jingles the children can sing along to. No morals will be taught, and there won’t even be an explicit story narrative or clever dialogue for children to learn from.
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Instead, mOOn ballOOn is an invitation for audiences to come with an open mind and let their imaginations take flight. It comprises a series of 16 vignettes where themes such as “home”, “babies” and “work”, to name a few, are explored with the use of balloons.
Associate Producer Luanne shares passionately, “What we want to do is use the arts as a way for children to learn socially, cognitively and at a developmental level that’s appropriate to them. What is it that we can do that stimulates their imagination, because we know that at about two-and-a-half to three years old, they love imaginative play, so what is it that we can create for them? …We want to develop another language, another palate, another appetite for children because they deserve to have theatre created for them.”
The result is mOOn ballOOn, and the invitation, put simply by Director Ian, is for young audiences to “come, have fun and leave happier”.
Expect a minimalist backdrop. And don’t expect a set.
The set literally comprises the props themselves – 37 white balloons of different shapes and sizes, set against a sea of stark black. The balloons are arranged in various clusters and configurations, and serve at once as props, characters and backdrop as a multimedia display is unleashed on them. It is, in fact, the very elemental nature of the balloon’s form that lends itself so well to enabling young audiences to see whatever they individually believe they do, in these universally beloved objects.
“We have 39 actors on stage – 2 human bodies, and 37 different-sized balloons” – Luanne Poh, Associate Producer
Without a spoken word, Bright and Hui Xuan exude a magnetism that is absolutely riveting. While not quite dancing, their movements and sequences are graceful and look perfectly choreographed. Their expressions communicate emotional depth that would make words and dialogue seem superficial. They have honed their art and they are completely in sync with one another.
And yet, watching the rehearsal, it becomes very clear that there are more than just two performers on stage.
Bright and Hui Xuan’s biggest challenge, and perhaps success, is in magically breathing life into their silent co-actors – the 37 balloons with whom they share the stage. It was a sheer delight to watch the interplay between the actors and balloons as the latter took on a multitude of expressions from playfulness to tenderness, and assumed the host of different roles our actors impressed upon them.
These balloons are, however, extremely unpredictable, and Bright and Hui Xuan have found themselves having to do a good deal of improvisation.
“Sometimes they try to be a diva and sometimes they slip out of (the actors’) hands. We’ve had a lot of that,” reveals Ian.
The rehearsal, however, betrays none of that whatsoever.
The team credits sound designers Stan and Soap, our two other inextricable performers who play up to six different instruments in the show, for creating the mood and dynamic between the actors and the balloons, and for covering up any moments when the balloons might behave unexpectedly.
Bright elaborates on his relationship with the musicians, “They surprise me constantly. They do something and it just melds in so perfectly. It’s almost like an Avatar moment where we just connect tails.” To which the team breaks into uproarious laughter.
The Material and Creative Process
mOOn ballOOn is adapted from Patch Theatre Company’s The Moon’s a Balloon, but beyond merely adapting the material, this is a landmark as Esplanade’s first collaboration with the Australian theatre company.
Dave Brown, Patch Theatre Company’s Creative Director, was keen to share his knowledge and experience of children’s theatre beyond Australia, and he worked locally with Ian and the team for six weeks before handing the reins over to Ian. While local children’s productions usually work with a ‘magic’ preparatory timeframe of six weeks, mOOn ballOOn would have clocked in almost four months of intensive work by the time the festival opens. And even this is relatively short, compared to the two full years Patch Theatre Company took to develop the original work.
Ian shares that Dave’s mentorship deeply affected the way he approached this production. Instead of succumbing to the usual pressure to deliver the production against a tight timeline, Dave challenged him to slow down and think more deeply about not just the form, but the substance of the work he was staging.
Ian and the cast, in turn, were able to take more time to explore their unpredictable props (for example, they tried to find multiple ways to prevent the balloons from bursting so easily!) and to hone the actors’ interactions with each other and the balloons down to a T.
The additional time allocated for mOOn ballOOn also allowed the team to incubate the project with young audiences at “Between Two Trees Preschool, Singapore”. They brought the balloons to the preschool, performed a short scene and asked the children what they saw.
Ian shares, “Usually children, all of them will have different kinds of interpretations, but it is the adults that try to make sense out of all this. But children can watch it with a very open mind… Sometimes we learn more from them than what we started with.”
Hui Xuan poignantly summarizes, “Watching it… because (things are) not spelt out, it leaves so much to your imagination… (and you can) discover that the dots may be there, but you can also make different pictures.”
How apt it is, therefore, that mOOn ballOOn finds itself curated as part of this year’s Octoburst! (pun not intended, hopefully!), as the production team’s vision is a resounding echo of the festival’s compelling theme for audiences to join in to “Imagine That!”.
About the “Behind The Scenes” Series
This special feature on mOOn ballOOn is developed in collaboration with Esplanade as part of Little Day Out’s Behind-The-Scenes Aspects of Theatre Production series to help young and old understand more about theatre productions.
Watch mOOn ballOOn
mOOn ballOOn is one of the three productions held as part of Octoburst! – A Children’s Day Festival by Esplanade Presents from 4 to 6 October 2013. Book your tickets to watch this wonderful production through SISTIC now!