Baba Yaga and Vasilisa : immersive fairy tales created for and by young audiences



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This paper addresses how theatre design can be employed in elementary education and how theatre artists translate children's ideas and perceptions of fairy tales into professional theatrical designs. I explore how children visualize fairy tales and how their ideas can inform professional theatre designers. In order to accomplish this, I employed an inverted pedagogical system in which the children became the teachers from whom the adult artists learn. This system empowered the children to think deeply and explore the fairy tale rather than be dependent on adult perceptions. The fairy tale environment therefore, was established through child inspired and theatrically designed scenery, costumes, lighting, and sound. The process, as described above, culminated in the creation of a fairy tale performance in promenade style theatre, which invited the audience, be it a child or adult, to come onstage and experience the story along with the performer. I, with the assistance of the Community Engagement Dramaturge Meredyth Pederson, conducted a residency at St. Francis School, Austin, TX in a first grade classroom. We presented the Russian fairy tale Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Beautiful and observed how the first graders perceived the story and visualized each design element: set, sound, costumes, and light. Each forty-five minute residency session with the first grade students focused upon a specific design discipline. After each residency session, Pederson and I reviewed the ideas and artifacts the first graders shared with us that day. The artifacts included drawings, recordings of conversations, soundscapes, photos of costumes, and their analysis of the story. We then shared this information with the adult theatrical environment design team. The design team discussed that which was identified by Meredyth and myself as important to the participating six or seven-year-old project collaborators' experience of the story. The adult design team then discussed how to transform their ideas into three-dimensional environmental design. The experience in the classroom did not drastically alter any of the professionals design processes but added another layer of research and ideas to the mix. The process was a positive introduction of young people into the world of design and professional story telling which encouraged and honored their ideas and interpretations of the story.