Asking children life's big questions

Tuesday 31 January 2017

Small Voices Louder is an immersive theatre experience that asks kids to think big – and adults to listen.

We speak to artist Alex Desebrock about her kids-only creation and why she thinks the world should be listening to what children have to say.

What is Small Voices Louder?

It's a two part work that connects children’s big ideas to adult’s ears.

Part one is an opportunity for children to think big. It’s a magical interactive installation of cubbies and worlds that asks big questions in interesting ways. For example – how would you describe love to a cloud?

Part two takes the recordings of these answers and weaves them into sound works for adults to hear. These are played in unexpected places throughout the Festival, including some yellow megaphones at Perth Writers Festival.

What made you want to create this work?

When I make work I start with the question – what does the world need to hear? – and, often, I keep coming back to children.

Children make us laugh, inspire us with their creativity and bluntness, make us feel hopeful and reflect what we tell them back at us. They are also our future – so we should feel responsible to them.

Can kids who can't read well attend this show?

Yes. There are things to read, but not heaps. I or another child can help out if you need, no problem!

Why do you play the children's answers to the public?

Because what they say is amazing! We can’t share every answer from every child but we gather what the important and recurring answers are, as well as some of the gems. I hope it provides a window into these remarkable brains and makes people take a moment to pause and think and listen.

As adults, we don’t get to think big ourselves very often. Hopefully these children will help.

Why is this a kids-only event?

Well, the first part is kids-only. We find that if there are adults that the children know in the space listening, then it changes the quality of the answers. I don’t even really get to listen to them until I sit down with the recordings!

What if you feel too shy to go in without your parents?

Then I’d say that’s ok.
But that there is nothing scary.
In fact, it’s quite magical.
And sometimes when we’re a little brave, amazing things can happen.

Why do kids get out of attending?

We’ve worked hard to make it a complete theatrical experience for them. It's the kind of work that is maybe a little odd, and curious – and will definitely make children think. Apart from the fun of discovering all the tents and their worlds, we let the children know that their answers are being recorded and why we’re making this work.

I hope they feel important, empowered even. And feel confident to engage, think big and tell the world what it needs to hear!

Can kids attend in groups?

Absolutely. Each audience is 16 children. So groups of up to 16 are very welcome.

What kinds of questions do you ask the participants?

I don’t like to reveal too much … but one question that I am really looking forward to asking in Perth is the question in the ‘alien’ tent. Children are asked to explain to an alien what Perth is like. We’ve had this tent in Wodonga and Melbourne, but I am really looking forward to hearing what children say about my home town – I can only imagine!

What's one of the most memorable answers you have heard from a child?

We’ve had so many! Let’s continue with the ‘alien’ tent and Melbourne …

‘In Melbourne, it’s all about AFL and sport’. ‘No, it’s about art. Art and food’.
‘Melbourne’s supposedly the most livable city in the world’ (cue eye-roll).

To more serious insights like:
‘It’s mainly safe in Melbourne. Except the city. I don’t feel safe there. There are these wire bits that have been put down in the parks to hurt dogs. That scares me.’

‘We’re pretty lucky to live here. There’s no wars. No fighting. There are trees and parks and beaches and the houses aren’t too tall. We’re really lucky.’

What has been the feedback from kids who have attended?

Children really love it. They each have their favourite tent and question. We’ve made sure there’s a tent that suits most personalities and interests.

The live animal is often the biggest hit … but I’m not going to say any more.

What has been the feedback from their parents?

I’m looking forward to getting more feedback from parents from doing a full season with PIAF. For most of my work, parents appreciate we’re not talking down to children, that we’re trying to challenge them in creative ways and place their voice and ideas at the centre. I can also promise it’s a well considered, high quality experience for children. It’s special.