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Photo courtesy of Micasa Theatre

Fringe fave Countries Shaped Like Stars arrives at the Ottawa International Children’s Festival

By Ryan Saxby Hill on May 31, 2013

This week, thousands of children are getting the opportunity to explore their creative side at the Ottawa International Children’s Festival. We may not have that many readers in the 12 and under crowd (email and correct me if I’m wrong, kids), but there was one show in the festival program that struck us as pretty cool for kids of all ages: Mi Casa Theatre’s production of Countries Shaped Like Stars.

If you’re a parent with any hipster credibility at all, you must take your kids to Countries Shaped Like Stars — it’s one of our favourites from the 2011 2009 Fringe Festival, and certainly better than whatever’s on Treehouse this weekend. We caught up over email with Mi Casa’s co-artistic director Emily Pearlman to talk about her show, putting plays on for kids, and what she’s got coming up for this year’s Fringe. Note: the interview has been edited slightly for clarity.

Apartment613:  How has your show evolved since you first presented it at Fringe? Did you have to make adjustments for a younger crowd?

Emily Pearlman: We have now done the show almost 100 times, which is a great luxury as it allows us to learn about the show from the audiences — this includes fine tuning timing for moments, comedy and audience interactivity. The initial Fringe production was done on a shoe-string budget in a basement. Our costumes were just adapted outfits from our closets. Our own furniture was the set. During the run at the Fringe, we couldn’t sit in my living room at night because I had stolen the lamps for the show.  So after we did it at the Fringe, we decided we needed to up the production values to make it tourable [for] larger venues. That included bringing designers on board, and adding in theatrical lighting so that it could play in black box theatres.

However, we have always loved that small intimate feeling that came from the Fringe show — people squished into a non-theatre space, with completely performer-operated lighting [and the] feeling like they are part of a clandestine party, so we still do the show outside of theatres. And I think that is where it lives best. At [the Children’s Festival] we are in a non-theatre space which immediately changes the expectations for the audience. 

There are no particular changes for the younger crowd except that the comedy changes drastically — kids find different things funny, and participate completely differently than adults. They’re actually an ideal audience because they have not been trained in the “rules of the theatre” and are therefore not taken aback when we talk directly to them. It is a sad story, but we had a four-year-old at one of the first shows at the Fringe, and at the end her mom asked her if it was too sad. To which she replied, “Mommy, sometimes life is really sad.” Which made us vow to never dumb down the work for a younger crowd.

 Apartment613:  What do you think children can take away from your show? Do you think there is something about theatre that can help engage children in the arts?

EP: I think the DIY nature of the show is really important for kids to see. We don’t have fancy things and big sets, but [we] create a world using things that they could easily grab from around their house — hopefully reminding them that creative acts are accessible to everyone. I think it’s also a great show for families because it’s a shared experience that can be appreciated on different levels — and then hopefully provide a talking point,

Apartment613:  What’s next for the show? Any plans for Fringe this year that we should knows about?

EP: We were in Quebec City last month working with a company of actors there who are creating a French translation of the show to be directed by Ottawa director Joël Beddows. [It’s] so interesting to see what poetry can and cannot be directly translated and which words are funnier.  “Avant l’archipel” is the French title – with Lénaïque la Magnifique and Brévalaire Spectaculaire.

In the summer we are heading to Picton to do a run at The Festival Players of Prince Edward County, and then taking it to the Edmonton Fringe. Mi Casa doesn’t have a fringe show this year, but I have written a new site-specific piece with Brad Long called “We Glow” where we take on the systemic pressures of life in a boardroom.