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Grey, green, greasy – that’s the look of the water in the Port River near my home. It’s a working river so there’s always a hint of oil slick. It’s also home to a large number of dolphins strangely enough. Occasionally I can hear a long and exceptionally loud siren which makes me wonder what it’s like if you live up close, right in Port Adelaide, because I’m a good thirty minute walk away.
At night there’s a luminous blue streak flying right across the river. That’s the neon decorative stripe following the gentle curve of the ultra-modern cantilevered opening bridge. It’s an eerie sight.
When I first read about calls for groups to participate in the very first Port Adelaide Festival I knew I wanted Musical Child to be a part of it. It’s such a soulful, complex place and a festival would help cement my environment in the minds of arts lovers as a destination for local tourism and a historical treat. A live performance would also enrich our standing with parents and teachers in the local area.
So I looked through our songs and found a heap of water songs and sea shanties. There wasn’t much to bind them together in a narrative so I took the strongest character, the pirate and the most treasured local animal, the dolphin and started weaving the songs into a story-shape. My colleagues sharpened up the plot and script during the rehearsal period and “Pirates Ahoy!” emerged. The local Maritime Museum agreed to be the venue and gave us the use of their sloop, the Active II as a “stage”.
The season of performances was thrilling, brilliant, well-attended and loved by all. Since then various combinations of staff have performed in childcare centres, kindies, outdoor events. Very soon, October 2nd 2012 in fact, Michael and I will perform it in at the Goodwood Community Centre as part of their school holiday program.
There’s something to be said about bringing young children face to face with someone as terrifying as a pirate. Since the days when feature films first started showing us stories of swash-buckling adventure on the high seas, the idea of the Caribbean pirate has stuck. Johnny Depp’s outstanding performances in recent times have given us the “look” and any reference to here-and-now piracy is overshadowed by a romantic idea popularised by film-makers.
However, the fertile fantasy-driven mind of a three, four or five year-old can still ignite a frisson of fear at the mere mention of the word “pirate”. Archetypes are very strong at this age and pirate is synonymous with “baddie”.
My take on this is to make our pirates morally bad, after all they steal from people and threaten their victims, including each other. But we also give them a lovable dimension. This allows the children to fear, condemn and like them all in the same short time-span.
There’s room for a nuanced response, for a bit of questioning of the behaviour, motives and rationale driving such reprehensible characters as Cap’n Carol and Pirate Mikey. Perhaps someone who is afraid of sharks and loves dolphins might be human after all? How would I behave? Do I like people who do bad things? Can they also be funny? Do they bleed?
We do have one thoroughly nasty character, One-eyed Jack, but we play him with a puppet so he can be feared and sneered at. Being a one-dimensional monster, he allows us as story-tellers, to provide an appropriate resolution to his law-breaking. His fate is sealed when he is caught and put in gaol.
Meanwhile our two slightly-lovable pirates sail away to look for more dolphins and to chase each other around the deck.
If you want to play at pirates with your children and see what sort of moral dilemmas arise, here are links to a couple of great songs with suggested activities. Play hard, wallow in the speech and language development and find out what happens to your child’s moral code when there’s the thrill of thievery and skulduggery involved. Arrr!