By Sunny Drake
Aren’t we all a little childish when it comes to relationships? To explore this idea, Sunny Drake had the inspired idea to create a verbatim play drawn from interviews with children about love and dating. Children’s exact words then are re-contextualized into adult situations for adult actors, with surprising, hilarious and moving results that offer new perspectives from young people who often see right through how adults behave, and offer us a transformative new way to see love, children and adults.
Dramaturgy and process
Brian and Sunny met when Sunny participated in Brian’s playwriting and dramaturgy course at the Tarragon Theatre. They kept in touch after the course concluded, and in 2017 Sunny approached Nightswimming with a number of potential new works. Brian responded to the idea of CHILD-ISH, and invited Sunny to develop the first draft with Nightswimming as one of our OAC Creators-in-Residence.
Sunny’s work is smart, funny, politically charged, intrigued by theatre form, and adventurous in terms of language and content…all qualities that I seek out in dramaturgical projects and relationships.
Sunny’s work is focused on and captures issues that are relevant and immediate today; it is determined to be entertaining as well as provocative; and it uses language and structure in novel ways. Sunny’s desire to create a piece using interviews with children, and to then use that source material for an exploration not only of childhood, but also of how adults interact with one another struck us as genuinely exploratory…in the sense that the result is not a given. Sunny is testing new ideas and new forms of process, which is exactly what Nightswimming does in all of our projects. Moreover, Nightswimming had not yet worked in the verbatim / documentary theatre form, and this project is a great way for us to explore this dramaturgical landscape.
Sunny’s residency was extremely productive in terms of generating new material and refining both the approach to interviewing the children (with Jessica Greenberg’s essential collaboration), and finding new ways of exploring the words and ideas they offered. When Sunny’s residency concluded, CHILD-ISH shifted into a different phase of creation. Although it was still text based at this point, Sunny imagines a very physically engaged performance piece, and because the nature of the work demands an exploration of how to perform the piece, it is essential that the process move into an extended workshop process with the support and contribution of the many partners listed below.
Building on the success of working with three children as dramaturgs throughout the process (also a first for us at Nightswimming!), we have been excited that Sunny and his team have brought a larger group of children into the creative process as collaborators in the creation of Act 2, which shifts from the verbatim format into a participatory experience for a multi-generational audience.
After the sold out work-in-progress presentation at Summerworks in 2019, Sunny undertook another round of interviews to expand the piece with the important and difficult topics kids had brought forward: death, climate anxiety and mental health. The script has continued to evolve since then, expanding beyond themes of love and relationships to focus also on climate change, mental health and other areas children were interested in discussing. We all learned a lot from the SummerWorks run, and we continue to support Sunny’s process as it unfolds.
During the pandemic, Sunny shifted CHILD-ISH online in new and exciting ways, ultimately creating a four episode web series filmed on Toronto playgrounds. Coming in 2022 is a podcast version drawing on past interviews and new material.
If you’re missing school over the summer, or the child-like wonder of your youth, this one’s for you. It’s fun, silly, earnest and heartfelt, and gives voice to the unbridled curiosity and wisdom of children. CHILD-ISH is a wonderful reminder of how freely children think, play and love. It was a real treat to see this play as it currently exists, and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.Mooney on Theatre
Children understand more about love and relationships than we might give them credit for. And as we age, we lose a lot of spontaneity, directness and playfulness in our interactions with others. Those are two of many takeaways from CHILD-ISH, a show with a fascinating concept. The show isn’t afraid to go to serious places. There’s a chilling moment when Zorana Sadiq’s Syrian refugee explains the idea of “ghost friends.” And the kids’ ideas around consent are revelatory.NOW Magazine