We held a two-day multi-age class around the study of Pinocchio. (We offered the session during Mid Winter Break as we had to cancel two school days in January when our boiler system was shut down for repairs.) Sixteen children attended. Quyhn Cao and I were impressed with how much learning and doing took place during those twelve hours together: we delved into the original tale and compared that to the aspects of the Disney animated feature. The story ends with Gepetto being stuck in the belly of a whale. We made a literary comparison to the Biblical story of Jonah and the Whale. After making simple marionettes with strings and sticks, children began to learn how to manipulate them. We had time to do other activities as well: beading and making lanyards, enjoying a fast paced game with balls and ride toys that was created one day in the Trike Room, We took the light rail to the Seattle Children’s Theater to see their current production of the story. The older and younger children play and work together so very well. The two-day program typifies what Lake and Park means by a theme based curriculum. We want to involve the greater school community in the experience.
About the Story and Some Difficulties in Presenting It to Children
Written in Italian by Carlo Collodi, the story was constructed as a serial—one installment after another as a magazine format, rather like the modern comic book where the reader is kept on the hook and made to pick up the next installment to find out how the character gets out of the latest predicament. No wonder there are so many cliff hangers! And what cliff -hangers! Collodi seems to spare nothing as he creates one ordeal after another for his most lasting character to endure. In chapter after chapter, Pinocchio attempts to do the right thing; he is beset again and again by those who would deceive him. On top of that, he is frequently dealing with straight forward difficulties such as having to wonder where his next meal will come from, etc. At every juncture, our collective heart goes out to him.
Because of what I find to be “darkness” in the story, I have shied away from it at times. I have felt sorry for Pinocchio as I have felt sorry for Curious George. Children are drawn to both protagonists as they are enduringly appealing; the child audience identifies with the monkey and the puppet equally. Both are put in moral predicaments and asked to “be good” when they have no sense of what that means. Both try again and again to do that right thing although each is tempted by attractions in the environment. (On top of that, Pinocchio is bullied and deceived.) Both are held accountable when they fail. How to present Pinocchio to a group of children has always been for me, troubling.
The Seattle Children’s Theater Ongoing Production of Pinocchio
But the lightness I was looking for in redeeming the story is in abundance in the Seattle Children’s Theater’s current production of Pinocchio. It will run through March 9th. The show’s conceit is that the audience has arrived before the show is scheduled to be performed. There are no actors in typical costume. There is nothing but drop cloths and scaffolding and a handful of painters who are surprised to see people in the audience. They look at us and tell us that they are sorry--they are here only to paint—we must have come on the wrong day. The children don’t know what to think of this development. Are they leading us on? We are led on. Proceeding as if it were an improvisation, the show takes us through Pinocchio’s tale without darkness. Rather, there is humor aplenty. The playwright, who is also the director, references the Italian origins of the commedia del’arte form. He makes reference to Punch and Judy. He shows his sleight of hand by the way he has his actors seize the opportunities that the painter’s craft supplies. A shopping cart becomes the stagecoach. By substituting everyday objects for what would typically be realistic props, the moral tone of the story is kept light. Seeing Pinocchio comically taped to a ladder tree rather than hung by a rope from a branch that looks like a tree branch takes away the weight of the tale and allows the audience to breathe. The exploits that the puppet/child gets into are saved from pathos by the camaraderie that the cast as a group of painters who double as creative storytellers conveys.
If your child missed the opportunity to see the production, I would recommend that you try to see it as a family.
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Upcoming Production of Pinocchio
I want to let you know that Pacific Northwest Ballet will be presenting its own production of Pinocchio in March. Check their schedule. There are some weekend matinees planned for early March. A student matinee will be presented on March 21st, which is an In Service Day for Lake and Park teachers. Could be a perfect outing for parents and children to do on that day.