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Published April 15th 2014
Imaginative Theatre for you and the kids
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Tashi is the adorable character in a series of children's books written by Anna Fienberg (with her mothet Barbara Fienberg) between 1995 and 2008.
In his trademark black hat and red coat Tashi is always the trickster telling elaborate (and probably tall) tales about how he got out of tricky situations which usually involved characters such as wicked barons, demons, warlords and giants.
He tells these stories to a boy named Jack and his parents who usually sit in rapt attention. He is the exotic spice in their otherwise quite dull lives.
I certainly read these gorgeous stories to my children because they are so imaginative and Tashi is such a resourceful character. In fact I really believe he teaches children to think laterally about problems they might encounter in life.
Source: Imaginary Theatre Facebook
In fact in 2009 Tashi was listed in the Sydney Morning Herald as being number four on the "Top 10 Reads for children under 10."
The director of Imaginary Theatre in Brisbane, Mark Radvan, also apparently read them to his children and loved them enough to turn them into innovative theatrical performances. The company is presently touring Australia with Tashi in tow.
The present performances bring to life two Tashi stories. There is a very short intermission in-between.
First up is Tashi and The Mountain of White Tigers which is the story of when Tashi helped the villagers to undermine The Wicked Baron. To do this Tashi must conquer his fears and travel to the Mountain of White Tigers.
The second story is Tashi: Lost in the City. It starts with Jack and Tashi stuck in an elevator and to take Jack's mind off certain matters Tashi tells him stories of the time he was trapped and how he got out using his own ingenuity.
I saw this Tashi production at the Darebin Arts Centre, which is a largish theatre.
My advice would be to attend it at a more intimate venue as in some ways Tashi is almost a fireside intimate tale and not one for large spaces.
Source: Imaginary Theatre Facebook
This is because this theatre company tries to break down what, in theatrical terms, is called "the fourth wall." This is the imaginary "wall" that exists as the invisible boundary between the players and the audience.
For example when we were seated ready for the play, the young man next to me started chatting quite animatedly about this and that.
Then when the play started he climbed on the stage. Similarly the other three actors also dispersed themselves amongst the audiecec before and after the show.
Already knowing the actors was a lovely experience for the children.
Before the show the actors also make a point of introducing the lighting person and the person in charge of onstage smoke. Again this was really endearing as it meant the children weren't frightened by some of the scenes when darkness fell or a mysterious figure was shrouded in smoke.
It might seem an insignificant act but I have a vivid memory of my own daughter (when she was about five) having nightmares over a character she had seen on the stage. I ended up organising to take her back stage to show her that there was an actor behind the mask and they she had nothing to fear.
So it is quite respectful of this theatre company to take kids' unique concerns into account.
Tashi books are incredibly imaginative so it is interesting that in tune with this the company really encourages children to stretch their imaginations.
While there are four actors they play multiple roles (except for Tashi who remains the one constant.) The actors do this quite simply by adding a large hat to become a baron, or a shawl to become a grandmother and so on.
Purposefully there is no real set beyond a couple of red boxes nor are there many props.
If a boulder is needed the actors huddle together to create one. An elevator becomes an imagined space.
If the family are eating pancakes then it is like the imaginary tea parties that your own kids have probably given you in the backyard where everything is pretend.
As an adult I really appreciated the artistry that went into all this, the acting abiltiy to play multiple roles, the abilities to mime and to contort their bodies into a myriad of shapes.
The two little girls I took with me thought that if the family was having blueberry pancakes then they should have been eating real pancakes with real knives and forks.
Their need for the concrete surprised me in some ways when I think of all the imaginary cups of teas and cakes made out of sandpit sand that they have made me over the years.
I wondered whether this was because while kids are totally imaginative they don't relate to it as much when adults pull the same stunts on them.
I would recommend this production to other parents but with a few suggestions.
I would try and see it at some of the smaller venues. I would also try and read a Tashi story to your child before going because they are total magic and it will help your child to engage even further with the production.
I saw one little boy clutching his Tashi book under his arm for dear life and getting Tashi to sign it after the show, which was most endearing. Kids adore this character.
This is really old-fashioned hard-core imaginative performance where a lot is left up to imagination.
It reminds me of when my own mother took me kicking and screaming to what I thought would be a most boring performance of my lifetime. It was the mime artist Marcel Maceau. Looking back I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
There are times when we need to leave the rash explicitness of the world we live in and be transformed by the power of our imaginations.
I went to see Tashi as part of the remarkable Loud Mouth Festival which has some remarkable performances for kids during the next week of the school holidays. Click here for details.
You can also see Tashi at Gasworks Arts Park on 16th April 2014
Time: Wed at 10am, 12.30pm & 3.30pm
Duration: 70 minutes (includes a short break)
Ages: Suitable for children aged 4-10 years
Price: All $18
The company is then touring WA and the Northern Territory before returning home to Brisbane after May 19th.
There will be performances on at Merredin, Kalgoolie, Esperance, Margaret River, Bunbury, Geraldton, Carnarvon, Port Hedland and Darwin.
Looks like the adventurous Tashi will be well travelled by the time he returns home.