What do kids know about love that adults don't? CHILD-ISH aims to answer that question

Sunny Drake's new experimental performance project debuts at Summerworks this week.

Sunny Drake's new experimental performance project debuts at Summerworks this week

CHILD-ISH. (Graham Isador)

How do our perspectives on romantic relationships, friendships, and dating change as we get older? What do kids know about love that adults do not? These questions are at the heart of playwright Sunny Drake's latest project CHILD-ISH, which workshops at the Summerworks performance festival this August. For CHILD-ISH Drake and his artistic associates created the show by interviewing over thirty children, chatting with the subjects about their experiences of love, crushes, and friendships. The interviewees ranged from age five to eleven and came from diverse backgrounds. 

"The original idea was sparked by a conversation I had with a 7-year-old friend. She was devastated that a boy at school wouldn't be her boyfriend," Drake told CBC Arts. "At first I thought: what would a kid know about being in love? But as she kept talking I started to, I totally feel that way too! And it got me wondering how many of our relationship hopes, fears and neuroses are similar to those of children?"

After completing the interviews Drake began compiling the responses into a verbatim script, creating composite characters and scenes from the content. CHILD-ISH will be performed by adults, with the juxtaposition between the grown-up actors and the kid's words creating tension that illuminates varying generational points of view. 

"The key direction for the adult actors is to be adult. They are not imitating kids - the point is recontextualizing kid's words into adult realms," said Drake.  "There's kids words that sound odd or incongruous coming from adults, and we've been finding that has a way of opening up new possibilities for adulthood, as well as requiring adults to ask big questions about their own lives."

Sunny Drake. (Graham Isador)

For Drake it was important to remind audiences that the children's experiences are just as real and valid as adults. The show rejects the idea that kids are just "future humans". Children are already valuable and authentic members of the communities they reside in, and their ideas should be treated that way. While that concept runs throughout the text and presentation of the play, Drake was also conscious of applying the idea to other aspects of the show's creation. Kids were a part of the creative process serving as dramaturgs, co-interviewers, and co-choreographers. For the playwright utilizing the talent and creativity of the youth highlighted the over all goals of the show. 

"Our goal is to make an accessible, thought provoking, and entertaining work that facilitates adults to listen to kids in new ways, expands possibilities for adulthood and facilitates inter-generational dialogue about love, consent and relationships," said Drake. "I hope [by the end] that adults will take kids more seriously, and themselves less seriously! I hope that children will feel heard in a different way. I hope that adults and children will talk with each other about things they don't usually. And I hope people will have a fun night out!"

With its experimental form and content of CHILD-ISH, it is fitting that the first public showings will happen at the  Summerworks festival. Summerworks has been a hub for ambitious theatre and performance since its creation in 1991, with juried shows highlighting some of the most ambitious art in Canada and beyond. For Drake the festival is a logical next step in the development process of  the show, which he hopes finds a home in venues across the country. But more than that Drake is excited for audiences to share the surprise and wonder he felt when creating the piece. The responses gathered in CHILD-ISH point towards different notions of living and loving, with a lot to learn from the children's experiences. Closing out the interview Drake shared one of his favourite anecdotes from the interviews. 

"When I asked if you could be in love with more than one person, the majority of interviewees not only said yes, but a pair kids came up with an idea," said Drake. "They said it would make a lot more sense to have three people married or even four people married. Then there would be more people to do the housework and take care of the kids and one of you could just go out and have fun without even needing to pay a babysitter, so it would save money!"

Tickets for CHILD-ISH can be found here.