Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) – an international and intercultural collaboration

Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) is beautiful, magical, moving and profound – a fine example of an art experience that brings cultures together, explores our humanity and develops empathy for others.” Greg Elliott, InDaily

Polyglot Theatre’s current immersive theatre production is Cerita Anak (Child’s Story), a co-production with Indonesia’s Papermoon Puppet Theatre which takes our decade-long creative collaboration to a new level of sophistication and artistry.

Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) takes children and their adults on a sea journey never to be forgotten. Climb aboard and be rocked and rolled across a strange ocean, dive to the bottom of the sea, hear stories on the wind and in the currents of the water and face great danger before coming to safe harbour. Drawing its inspiration from the seafaring history in Java and the true tale of arrival in Australia told by a small boy, this Helpmann and Green Room Award nominated show transports audience members on an exquisite theatrical adventure that was conceived and created alongside children in Yogyakarta and Melbourne.

One of Polyglot’s strategic objectives for 2021-2024 is to develop inspiring collaborations that are well-resourced to support strong, trusting relationships and the creation of outstanding art. Cerita Anak demonstrates Polyglot’s capability to collaborate in respectful intercultural processes – exchanging perspectives and ideas, and working towards a shared creative vision.

Cerita Anak strongly embodies the Australia Council’s strategic objectives: Arts and creativity are thriving and Our Arts reflect us. Cerita Anak’s creative team and touring team are culturally diverse and made up of Indonesian and Australian artists. The work is non-verbal, ensuring access across culture and language for audiences at home and around the world. Polyglot’s partnership with Papermoon Puppet Theatre is a rare example of a highly successful collaboration between Australian and South East Asian artists, resulting in a work of high quality and longevity that is in demand from the world’s most prestigious arts presenters including the Lincoln Center in New York and the Esplanade in Singapore.

Touring history

2020       USA premiere – Lincoln Center, NYC

2019       Singapore premiere – Esplanade Theatres on the Bay
                China premiere – Art Space for Kids, Hangzhou and Beijing
                International Performing Arts for Youth (IPAY) Showcase, Philadelphia

2018       Perth Festival, Western Australia
                OzAsia Festival, South Australia
                Indonesia premiere – ARTJOG, Jogjakarta, Indonesia

2017       World premiere – AsiaTOPA, Arts Centre Melbourne

The adult/child experience

Children’s access to theatre is facilitated by their adults, who hold the decision-making power in the relationship. It is a dynamic that Polyglot considers from the first stage of new work creation as we craft theatrical experiences that engage whole families meaningfully.

Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) is designed for children and their adults to experience simultaneously but in very different ways. For children, the work is a grand adventure; a journey on a boat that wholly engages their senses. Adults are absorbed by the human and political resonance of the work through its imagery of the refugee experience, and as they physically navigate the show together, adults see their children rapt in its sensory textures. Offering these two experiences deepens the impact of the show as children and adults see each other responding differently, sparking post-show conversations that stretch far deeper than “what was your favourite part?”

Crafting experiences for children and their adults to engage in together as equals, but appreciate differently, is a new frontier in Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA), and Polyglot continues to lead the way in this exploration. Sold-out seasons of Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) in Melbourne, Perth, Indonesia, Singapore and China indicate that audiences around the world are hungry for this kind of work, and reinforce that Polyglot’s groundbreaking approach places us at the forefront of the sector.

Innovation in audience engagement

Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) also offers audience engagement from two distinctly different perspectives. The inner audience is made up of child and adult pairs who experience the show as passengers on a boat and fully participate in the work. The outer audience is made up of other family members, older children and members of the general public. They are seated in traditional theatre seats and watch the work as a piece of theatre through a gauze curtain.

The inner audience is immersed in the story and goes through a sensory and physical experience of the journey by sea. The outer audience has an experience that is more meditative, with the ability to see the bigger picture as the story unfolds from the outside.

On one level, offering two types of engagement is pragmatic as it increases audience capacity and makes the work more viable for presenters. On another level, the addition of an outer audience to an intimate, participatory production is highly unusual. This innovative approach offers adults and older children a lens into the pure joy and freedom that comes from younger children’s complete immersion in a theatre experience.

Creative process

Polyglot Theatre has collaborated with Indonesia’s Papermoon Puppet Theatre since 2008, developing and creating projects that explore the cultural influences of puppetry, installation and interactive theatre performance through child-centred productions and installations.

Work on Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) began in 2015, when the companies travelled to Lasem – a fishing village on the north coast of Java. We explored boats, the sea and stories with local children and met with extraordinary people who told us local history, rich and dramatic. Back in Melbourne we explored similar themes with children from Dinjerra Primary School, finding true tales told by newly-arrived children who had experienced danger and detention first-hand.

In 2016, Polyglot’s artists travelled back to Indonesia to develop the theatrical concepts of the work. Later in the year, Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) entered a final stage of development at ArtPlay in Melbourne when the Papermoon creative team travelled to Australia for a two-week residency that included workshops with Dinjerra Primary School and family groups.

Premiering in 2017 at Asia TOPA at Arts Centre Melbourne, the end result of Cerita Anak (Child’s Story) is a work closely informed by every stage of its creative process, particularly the input of the Indonesian and Australia children who contributed to its development. The work pulls together aspects of all the stories we heard, resulting in a contemporary global story with children at its centre.