Theater to develop the young mind

Live Interactive Educational Theater has been producing children plays since 2015 in an effort to teach, entertain and inspire the inquisitive mind.
Ti Gong

Xu Jun (center), founder of Live Interactive Educational Theater, with her team

The concept of “theater in education” is getting more attention as the quality of education in China is changing with schools more focused on building the next generation of scientists, artists, thinkers, pioneers and world citizens.

Established in 2015, Xu Jun’s Live Interactive Educational Theater has been producing plays for children with the sole purpose of teaching, entertaining as well as inspiring. 

Targeting kids between the ages of 3 and 10, Xu says these programs not only provide children with the opportunity to experience the beauty of theatrical art, but also plays an important role in their social and emotional development.

Take “Little Hunter Guo Lie” for example. Based on a Miao ethnic minority folktale, it tells the story of little Guo dealing with difficulties. A fierce tiger, living in the mountains, has long been a threat to the village. Guo's father lost his life fighting with Tiger Fairy while hunting. Guo Lie wants to take revenge. However, little and inexperienced he is, what can he do to seek help?

“This is where our interactive theater moves in to involve our little readers into the situation and encourages them to act out their ideas,” says Xu, a promoter in using theatrical education to encourage effective learning at schools.

As it calls for careful consideration given the audiences' age to get the message across, Xu and her team have designed more than 200 interactive games related to the story.

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To reach the young audiences more easily, Theater in Educaiton plays often feature interactive and entertaining games.

For example, in the middle of a scene, the actors will stop and ask the children what they think will happen. Then they will discuss the problems with them and then continue to show the outcome of what is suggested by the audience members.

“We are always amazed at how much change can happen when kids see themselves and their actions portrayed by the third-party individuals and what consequences their actions can have on the lives of others,” says Xu.

Theater in education, or the concept of theater for children in an educational context, originated in the West after World War II, according to Xu who was first given the task to set up such major at Shanghai Theater Academy in 2005.

“At that time, I’d just earned my master’s degree in theater theory and history and was appointed chief of a new major in TIE. Neither me nor my colleague knew what to teach and how to do. Starting from scratch, we first made a list of books to read, and then created a curriculum. We then sent our teachers abroad to learn.

“Thanks to the efforts and persistence of my colleagues, we survived and now have our own workshop. Our aim is to see TIE becoming a part of the education system in China,” says Xu.

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A girls has great fun during an interactive children's play.

She says in TIE plays have to be performed on a round stage, for specific age groups and limited to a number, with actors capable of interacting with the children. She says plays should be entertaining as well as safe.

“This means our theater sees it as our duty to safeguard children and young people under 18 years of age. We put love first and take all reasonable steps within our power to ensure that abuse or neglect, of any kind, does not happen.

“We don’t use flashy animation or loud music to spook our audiences. We offer guidance and suggestions rather than lay down criteria for judgment. When we participate with young children, say under 6 years old, we ask their parents to join as well,” says Xu.

Other than “Little Hunter Guo Lie,” Xu’s Live Interactive Educational Theater has also been working on several other plays for children of different age groups. 

“‘The Story of Jade Hairpin’ aims to encourage students to savor the beauty of Kunqu Opera (a traditional art form that involves delicate singing and highly expressive postures), while ‘Lao She’s Drama Essentials’ tries to develop children’s aesthetic sense in the face of tragedy, with which comes the sense of power and control over it,” says Xu.

Ti Gong

"The Story of Jade Hairpin" tries to encourage young children to savor the beauty of Kunqu Opera.


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