For kids, they're super troupersFor parents, a children's play is often something that must be endured for the sake of getting that homework done or keeping a mindless promise made months ago to celebrate Children's Day.
"The Little Dragon," a children's drama in English, currently on stage at the newly opened LATT Children's Theater in Cheongdam-dong, is a rare gem that will make both parents children happy with their theater experience.
Adapted from an original story by G. K. Ferrari, an English-language education specialist, "The Little Dragon" is the story of a Little Dragon's quest to find another creature just like him. During his travels he meets other creatures and learns about friendship. The tension in the drama is provided by the Collector, an evil man who wants to own one of everything and keep his collection in his magic coat. The Collector wants to capture the Little Dragon and chases after him in a mad hunt through a forest, a city and underwater.
The cast -- six actors from Australia and two Korean understudies -- has all had extensive experience in children's theater. The group's professionalism is evident in its performance and the rapport it builds with the audience.
There is a lot of singing and dancing, including a rock-and-roll number that has youngsters boogying around their seats.
The play also features the creative talents of Steve Coupe, an accomplished puppeteer. Puppets handled by the actors on stage are used to represent the various creatures that the Little Dragon encounters during his adventure, including dragonflies, an octopus, a snake and a butterfly.
If parents are not excited by the simple language and plot, the fantastic sets should keep them entertained. One of the highlights of the play is the underwater scene that opens with the Little Dragon, played by Kurt Duval, diving into the sea, hanging from wires suspended from the ceiling. The stage lights are turned off and, in a twinkling of an eye, a colorful underwater world unfolds on the stage where the sea creatures glow in the dark with their bright fluorescent colors.
The play has been produced to appeal to Korean children in the third to sixth grades who are learning English. The script uses basic vocabulary and grammar. Admittedly, the over-repetition of some words is tedious and threatens to drag down the pace of the play. (In an early scene, you can lose count of the number of times you hear the word "dragonfly" in "The Dragonfly Song.") However, for children just beginning to learn English, this is an excellent introduction to new vocabulary.
"The Little Dragon" proves that a child does not need full command of a language to enjoy a play. Park Seo-young, 7, in the audience at last Tuesday's preview, has been studying English for just five months. Still she said, "I only understood about half the words, but I was able to follow the story."
The play relies heavily on songs and dances to tell the story, and for a reason. "For children, music and dance are part of the learning vehicle," said David Russell, who plays the part of the Collector. When children learn a language, they do it with their bodies as well, according to Mr. Russell, who also is an opera singer.
Since the play purports to be more than just entertainment, incorporating learning is an important part of this particular theater experience. A sing-a-long session follows the hour-long drama, in which the audience is taught a song and a dance number from the play. Each child is also given a workbook that reviews the words introduced in the play.
To bolster the aim of utilizing drama to learn English, the theater company is holding a 13-week drama workshop for elementary school students. The students will work with professional actors to produce a play that will be performed at the end of the program.
The theater troupe plans to grow into a self-producing repertoire company with three full-fledged productions, according to Roger Rynd, the company's artistic director. "Our next piece, which will be staged next spring, will be based on a collection of Korean stories," he said. The company also plans to tour the provinces with smaller productions.
The LATT Children's Theater is the city's first auditorium devoted exclusively to children's drama. Special provisions are evident in touches like an enclosed viewing area for parents to take young children who cannot sit through a whole performance. The area is outfitted with a large video screen showing the stage.
Padded, low-back benches are used in place of standard theater seats. And, elsewhere there are two large colorful toilets to appeal to children. The sound system, consisting of 12 speakers, is another nice touch not usually seen in children's theaters.
For parents and youngsters who have sat through too many shabby children's musicals in makeshift theaters that are too large for the children, the 250-seat LATT Children's Theater should prove to be a novel experience.
"The Little Dragon" is on stage until Dec. 22, at 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, with additional performances at 6 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays. For more information, call 02-540-3856 or visit the Web site at www.LattCT.com.
by Kim Hoo-ran