Image credit: Mark Hamilton

This month Scottish Opera presents KidO, an interactive musical experience for young children. Acclaimed children’s theatre director, Lu Kemp and director of Education and Outreach, Jane Davidson, stress the importance of music and theatre being introduced at an early age and prove that you are never too young for theatre.

After the success of BabyO, parents asked for a new production for children who were a bit older. “The principle elements, in terms of sound, visuals and narrative, would have to develop as the cognitive capabilities of the average child progressed.” Davidson explains that they realised that they had to create new work to keep up with the audience as they grew older. KidO explores the difference between good and bad behaviour, “a basic concept that will not be unfamiliar”. She goes on to explain that the young audience members will be experiencing their first major change, going from home to school, “Scottish Opera wanted to create parallel music journeys to accompany each stage in the early year’s journey”. KidO explores issues and allows the children to understand in a fun way and offers audience interaction. Without giving too much away, Kemp says that they have used a system which makes anything playable. “The audience are essential to some of the music creation within the piece.”

Kemp explains that she is interested in “how music rather than words can communicate what is essential to our experience of being human”. From an early stage in our lives, music allows us, as humans, to be in touch with our emotions, make us feel and think. “Every person is creative, everyone should be invited to be part of a social conversation and the arts are a great way of engaging people in that.” She adds that “All children should experience live art” and that it is not important, but essential that they do so.

Scottish Opera have been providing and commissioning shows for children and young people since 1971 but some may argue that there is not enough theatre around for a younger audience. Kemp believes that “it is the access and funding that is the problem. Theatre needs to reach broader audiences. It needs to be cheap, so it as natural to engage with theatre as it is with television”. Davidson adds, “Access to high quality live performance is widely recognised as being key to enhancing the overall quality of life.” She continues, “Growing up understanding and appreciating a wide range of art experiences offers each individual a greater change to challenge and explore the world around them”.

Music and theatre allows children to understand the world they live in, in a fun and comfortable environment. Kemp says that the arts “help us develop communication skills, empathy, problem solving, they allow us to imagine a better way of living and to experiment with ways of achieving that”. Those skills are crucial for children to develop early, especially for times like starting school and interacting with others. Kemp explains that they devised the piece at a time when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was critical. “So the piece is about space. How, regardless of our age, we struggle to share space.” By consulting with children, “road-testing sections in nurseries, listening and watching how they respond”, the team created a piece of theatre that younger children will understand.

Davidson expresses her passion for opera and the variety of emotions that can be portrayed. “I think it’s utterly fascinating (having watched opera for over 30 years) to draw comparisons between the incredible ‘high and lows’ of emotion-  as portrayed on stage by many fictional characters in the world of opera and the roller coaster of mood swings experienced by the average three year old during the course of a day”. By taking the range of emotions, portraying them through operatic voices and showing the art of make believe, a connection is made between the audience and performers. “It’s this breadth and range of emotive energy which, I think, has its origins in the world of traditional opera and its great fun to perform and to observe in equal measure”. Scottish Opera have taken a concept known for having an older and traditional audience and has proven that you are never too young to enjoy the art.

Kido is touring until 4 April. For more information and tickets, see their website.