As an artist, I struggle to depict fear on stage in ways that feel true.I want to honor the child audience with performances that acknowledge the scary situations that are part of their lives. While watching the shows at the ASSITEJ Performing Arts Festival, I noticed that the performances that stuck with me were the shows that explored the notions of fear the scariness of being a child in tumultuous times. I was inspired by the way the artists and performers tackled the notion of depicting fear onstage.
I saw Dallae’s Story on the opening day of the festival, and it moved me to tears. I was startled by the depiction of war. Lights and sound penetrated the darkness, evoking a barrage of ammunition during a heavy firefight. I also saw Every Year, Every Day, I Am Walking– a play that chronicled a young girl’s journey through a difficult childhood filled with obstacles and terror. This show used multiple aesthetic strategies to depict disturbing situations.I found my senses overwhelmed by the smell of smoke as fire devoured the home of the little girl and her mother. At Wolfed Down!, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, I was entranced by the most terrifying wolf I have ever seen.
I found some of these moments to be very frightening. Initially I questioned whether young people would be able to handle that level of fearful stimulation. But then I realized that we don’t necessarily need to tone down scary situations in performances for young people. Children know fear. Children sense things keenly, and they feel every emotion in its fullest. I believe that children know fear more acutely than adults do. Let’s not shy away from fearful situations in plays for young audiences, but rather find theatrical and innovative ways to depict frightening situations on stage – as the artists who brought their work to ASSITEJ have done. I look forward to rising to this challenge in my own work.
Brianna Stapleton Welch
MFA Theatre for Youth candidate
Arizona State University