By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“I think you’re going to like it. I really do…. It’s designed, choreographed, and performed by you.”
A bright and empathetic eight-year-old (Henrietta Mettler), is leading us through our Act I preparations for a family alpine adventure that will have us sallying forth together into caves, leaping across rivers, encountering strange creatures — in our own home.
We do the creating en famille in Act II, following a narrative soundscape. And all we’ll need is an audio device (computer, cellphone or tablet), a bed sheet, a blank piece of paper, and a pen or pencil.
Mountain Goat Mountain, an “audio theatre” production for families by the innovative young Australian company Threshold, is one of the featured virtual performances at this year’s all-digital 40th annual edition of the International Children’s Festival. And, says Theshold co-director Tahli Corin, it was especially designed to address the disconnectedness of this isolating time in which we live.
Zooming from the “Australia performing arts market” in Adelaide, Corin explains that even before the pandemic hit, she and her Threshold producing partner Sarah Lockwood — theatre artists with small children who live and work in Kyneton, a small town of 8,000 an hour outside Melbourne — “had already been pondering accessibility.”
“How can we bring theatre to the ‘regions’ in a way that doesn’t rely on travelling vast distances?” Kyneton isn’t far from the big city, “but that’s significant when you’re taking kids to the theatre.”
The pandemic, with its attendant shutdowns and travel restrictions, was “an opportunity to stretch the form,” says Corin, who thinks of Mountain Goat Mountain as “digital prompts for real-world interaction…. Not something you watch, instead something that connects you with the people you share space with. Lots of theatre companies have turned to streaming. But we wanted to do something different, something that connected people to each other in their homes.”
And in COVID-ian times, connection is a rare and precious commodity. “When you have small children,” says Corin, an actor-turned-playwright, “in a lockdown you become everything — the mother, the grandmother, the playmate, the teacher.” Theshold “wanted to create a little circuit-breaker to that, and let adults drop into play with their children.”
“And everything you need is in the room.… We need to be reminded of that in times of anxiety and uncertainty.”
Named with the aim of “looking at life’s big moments,” Theshold was designed from birth in 2019 “to use theatre to create moments of connection,” as Corin puts it. “Sometimes that’s with digital tools, sometimes with analog.” Theshold’s Feather Quest, for example, sends theatre-goers a set of cards through the mail that “lead families through an (interactive) quest in their homes.”
After weighing the options, the Mountain Goat Mountain team opted for audio over screen-based experiences. For one thing, “it democratizes the family…. You don’t have to know how to read to follow the prompts; adults don’t need to be the boss .” For another, you’re not shackled to a screen; you’re free to move away from the device, a liberation in itself.
Corin cites seminal American research into why people attend cultural activities. Eighty per cent of respondents (“a powerful statistic for us!”) put connection with their event-going companion(s) as their chief motivation, ahead of the event itself. For Corin and Lockwood, the attractions of immersive, interactive, intimate theatre far outweigh the theatrical illusions created in traditional proscenium theatres.
From its premiere in the darkest days of the pandemic mid-May 2020, Mountain Goat Mountain has caught on with audiences across Australia, in Europe, and in North America. “We made it for our own families, our own community, our own state (Victoria, in strict lockdown at the time),” says Corin. Since then, it’s been hosted by festivals and theatre companies across six English-speaking countries (the Kids Fest in St. Albert is its 18th engagement). And it’s currently being translated into Mandarin.
The thing Corin misses, she allows, “is the ability to observe audiences, hear them as they gasp and laugh or clap so you know you’re on the right track.” But “our job in this form is to create the structures that allow audiences to connect with each other and have those moments of magic and delight that theatre is for!”
International Children’s Festival of the Arts
Mountain Goat Mountain
Created by: Tahli Corin and Sarah Lockwood
Starring: you and your family
Running: available now, tickets good anytime for 30 days following ticket purchase (last day to purchase a ticket June 6)