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Research on the stage

Theater researchers examined the reception of the Haifa International Festival for Children's Plays

Children's theater. Illustration:
Children's theater. Illustration:

The field of children's theater has been developing in recent years, and more studies deal with the way it affects children - among other things socially, emotionally and cognitively. However, there is still a lack of knowledge about the reception of plays among the audience in the professional literature in the study of young theater. The term reception refers to the process of absorbing a show, which allows the viewer to derive meaning and pleasure from the viewing experience.

The Haifa International Festival of Children's Plays is a theater festival for the whole family, which takes place every year on Passover. It lasts about three days and dozens of plays and performances are presented, inside and outside the halls. A competition is held between the original plays, which are staged at the premiere. Along with the original plays, the festival hosts dozens of outdoor shows and plays by artists from Israel and the world. The purpose of the festival is to develop the theater field for children in Israel and the quality of creation and performance for them.

What is the question? How does the Haifa Children's Play Festival affect children's perception of theater?

In their latest study, theater researchers Prof. Naftali Shem Tov from the Open University and Dr. Samdar Mor from the Kibbutzim College decided to examine how the Haifa Festival is received by children and their parents, bringing them closer to the field of theater and influencing their world. According to the researchers, "the Haifa Festival is a complete event that includes a variety of plays and shows, in a variety of styles (which include, for example, music, movement and mime) and languages ​​(both verbal and artistic). In addition, it includes a series of actions by the parents and children on the timeline and thus creates a unique family experience - such as choosing the shows, the trip to Haifa, active participation (physically and mentally) in the shows and the shows and the discussions after viewing (for example about the content and the message). Thus the festival becomes a festive and profound event that differs from a single show. In our research, we wanted to check how it affects the perception of theater among children and contributes to their cultural, social, emotional and cognitive charge".

In the first part of the study, which was done with the support of the National Science Foundation, the researchers observed about 20 children aged 15-4 and their parents during the shows and performances (of the festival held in 2022), examined their verbal and physical reactions and recorded them in writing. After that, they conducted "theatre talks" (group) and semi-structured personal interviews with them, in order to be exposed to their experiences. Data was collected from these conversations and analyzed in Atlas software (a tool for qualitative content analysis).

From the data emerged a series of actions that structure the festival as a total theatrical event. This event begins even before arrival, with the act of choosing the shows to watch. "It was interesting to find out to what extent the children were involved in the choice, whether in practice or in their parents' preconceived thinking about what is right, appropriate and appropriate for their age and taste. The choice also reveals the parents' attitude to educational and family values ​​that may be reflected on stage," explains Dr. Moore. Another significant action that was discovered is the mediation of the play by the parents or adult siblings, which means framing the knowledge necessary for the children to absorb the play. The mediation is done through a dialogue that takes place before, during and after the play which expands the theatrical and general knowledge of the children.

In addition, it was found that the children's participation in a show allows them to absorb them better. This participation may be carried out in a variable dose, from a show that stimulates their thoughts from a social, moral and emotional point of view, to a physical action that they are invited to perform while watching. It was found that active participation in a play or show helps children to better absorb the theatrical event because they are focused and emotionally invested. It was also found that the active participation in the festival atmosphere of the outdoor events and the face shows and the experience of family recreation in the aesthetic-artistic space make the children and their parents experience the event as a celebration, and strengthen and enrich their knowledge and charges. The experience continues to resonate with them even after the event, on the way home and a few days later, and is expressed in discussion and conversation about the shows in particular and the whole experience in general.

The research also shows that an audience of children, even the youngest, has the ability to perceive and criteria for evaluating and judging theater performances. Also, since they are exposed during the festival to a variety of theatrical genres and styles, they expand their theatrical knowledge through comparison. Hence, the series of actions that includes choosing shows to watch, mediation, active participation, celebration of the event and evaluation and judgment structure the reception of the festival as a complete event. "The research emphasizes the uniqueness of the festival compared to a single show. The multitude of events and performances in one complex exposes the young audience to artistic languages ​​that are not common in children's theater in Israel, and this exposure from the accumulation and intensity of the event enriches their charges and stays with them", explains Prof. Shem Tov.

Research highlights the uniqueness of the festival compared to a single show. The multitude of events and performances in one complex exposes the young audience to artistic languages ​​that are not common in children's theater in Israel, and this exposure from the accumulation and intensity of the event enriches their charges and stays with them.

In the second part of the research (archival), the researchers collected materials related to the festival from the theater archives of Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University and the Haifa Theater and from electronic databases. These are a variety of documents from 1987 (the year the festival was founded) to 2022, for example press clippings, reviews, production, protocols and budget tables. From the analysis of the data it is possible to learn mainly about the golden triangle in the field of children's theater: artistic-educational-entertainment. Prof. Shem Tov: "The basic premise is that the best children's theater balances these three aspects, and the artistic management at the Haifa Festival aims for it. The repertoire chosen each year strives for theatrical quality and a high artistic language with educational aspects, without omitting the delightful spectacular element, which captivates the hearts of children. The Haifa Festival is one of the initiatives where there is an awareness and ambition to establish the ideal balance between these aspects."

Life itself:

Dr. Samder Mor lives in Ramat Aviv. In a relationship + two daughters. likes to explore and see theater ("work is the hobby"). Prof. Naftali Shem Tov lives in Ra'anana. Married + two daughters. likes to watch plays and shows ("I turned my love for theater into a profession"), and to read.

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