Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Magic Paintbrush: Up Close & Personal with Brian Seward

I Theatre's spectacular production The Magic Paintbrush starts its run this week. Parenting on Purpose goes up close and personal with the company's Creative Director Brian Seward, to learn more about why I Theatre is bringing back this popular play.
Spectacular artwork from the original production of The Magic Paintbrush.
Parenting on Purpose: 

What made you choose this particular Chinese folk tale as the original inspiration for the play?

Brian Seward:  

It was an interesting story, with not too many characters, and with a very clear moral, that was suitable for younger children as well as older ones. A lot of Chinese folk tales can be quite long and involved. Others involve a lot of fighting and chopping off of heads. This story lent itself a bit more to a theatre adaptation - although we have the challenge of making things that are painted come to life!

There were a number of different versions of the story - some more bloodthirsty than others. We decided to take elements from the best and oldest versions, and blend them with contemporary references.

Parenting on Purpose: 

Hmm... It might have been difficult to show scenes with the chopping off of heads! 

What were some of the challenges in producing the original play and was it any easier to do the 2016 remake?

Brian Seward: 

For the original play, we had little experience of producing a musical, so it was a very steep learning curve. The amount of time needed to learn songs and then to choreograph was a lot longer than we had anticipated. Using puppets, we had to design the stage scenery to hide the puppeteers, and that meant that there was a LOT of scenery onstage, with very little space for the actors to move.

We had to find ways of creating effects that look easy on-screen, but are a very different matter onstage!
Rich characters and stunning scenescapes were a strong point for the 2000 production.

Parenting on Purpose: 

Can you share the story of how "The Magic Paintbrush" was picked up by Marshall Cavendish and eventually transformed into a book? What were some of the challenges of changing one form of literary genre to another?

Brian Seward: 

Quite simply, we got a phone call one morning from the publisher, who had the idea that if they produced a book of our play, we could help each other by cross-marketing, so that each of us would benefit. They had seen the show in 2000, and were keen to work with us so that when we brought back the show in 2004, the book would be published simultaneously.

In a play, you really only write the dialogue, and maybe occasional stage directions. The actors will add the intentions, the emotions and the actions, then the designers will add in the costumes, scenery, lighting and ‘atmosphere’. For a book, the writer has to take the dialogue and fill in the rest of the picture using descriptive language. Actually I had to REALLY trim down the dialogue, and very carefully try, in the minimum number of words, to create the atmosphere, describe the scenery and build up the full picture. 

It was very good to have the original 2000 production to refer back to, and for the illustrations we used some of the original production photos as reference. It was easy and fun to overcome some of the limitations of the script in the book, because in the book we could make anything happen!
Cover for the book that was published by Marshall Cavendish.

Parenting on Purpose: 

That's a really interesting story! 

Tell us about the 2016. What has changed? How have changes in the wider international landscape affected the script and characters?

Brian Seward: 

The story remains the same. The majority of the characters also remain the same. Obviously we have to retain the original storyline from the folk tale. However, the original play was very episodic in nature; we met a series of characters, but then never saw them again. I wanted to develop these characters, and give them a through-line, so we were able to follow them throughout the play. In the original story we had a lot of static puppetry. For this time we have streamlined the number of puppets, and gave them the ability to travel around the stage. We also gave them clearer and more developed storylines, so they became much more part of the action and less as just ‘decoration’. One of the ‘live’ actors has been transformed into a puppet, and three of the original puppet characters are now ‘live’ actors.

Because we are using a bigger and more technically advanced theatre space, the scenery is MUCH bigger and more spectacular, and we are able to make much bigger scene changes.

The songs had begun to sound a bit dated, so we have edited them, in some cases re-written the melodies and the words, and we have added in two new songs, and removed one which was really nice, but did not suit the mood or the action. Occasionally the music references may seem a bit dated now, but we think they are still a lot of fun, so we kept them in. (You’ll just have to watch to find out what I mean!). we have managed to mix a very eclectic range of musical styles in this production.

We were surprised - and maybe a little sad - that the original messages we wanted to convey; of the value of creativity, and the way that the arts can enrich our lives; that constant academic study is not necessarily the best way to go; and that the pursuit of money and riches to the exclusion of everything else is not the best aim in life - are still very relevant today. It DID mean that very little change had to take place in the way that the characters were written, and we really did not need to change the emphasis of the play very much
There's always breadth and depth for an I Theatre production. Each show imbues a moral for the audiences
both young and old,

Parenting on Purpose: 

Was the original piece intended as a social commentary and as a means to infuse educational values for the audience? How did this influence later plays that you have written?

Brian Seward: 

When I wrote the play originally, it was written as much for the parents (maybe MORE for the parents and teachers) than for the younger audience members. As such, it was written without talking down to the audience - and although there was a lot of comedy in the play, we tried not to make it ‘childish’. That is something which we ALWAYS try to do now, whether the play is for a younger or an older audience. We wanted to raise questions more than present answers. We wanted the audience to answer the questions for themselves - as this is where true learning lies. This is also a principle we have tried to stick to, even through pressure to give clear moral ‘answers’. Quite often the answers are there, ready for your to work out for yourself, but we still don’t hand them out on a plate!

Parenting on Purpose: 

Thanks Brian! We can't wait to watch the show!

Parenting on Purpose is pleased to partner I Theatre to present 4 tickets for the 11am show on Saturday 29 October 2016.

How to qualify for the giveaway:

1) Like the Parenting on Purpose Facebook page.

2) Share this blog post on your Facebook Wall and tag three friends (not including the friend who had tagged you. Remember to ensure that privacy settings are set to "Public".)

For an extra chance to win:

Comment on this post and share with us one interesting thing you have learnt about The Magic Paintbrush and why that interests you! Please leave your email so that we will be able to contact you should you win the contest!

The giveaway will end on Thursday 27 October and entries must be submitted by 10pm.

And.... we congratulate our winner E Ling, who has won 4 lovely tickets to the performance!

We will be contacting your shortly!

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Day in Our Lives in 2016: Balancing Homeschooling, Work, and Rest

It's been a pretty crazy year, as far as I'm concerned. Since Mark and I set up the training consultancy and the online store over two years ago, what used to be a pretty constant daily schedule with the kids has been thrown to the wind. And to be honest, so has much of our formal homeschooling schedule. (Which also explains why things have been pretty quiet on the blogging front with me - Mark has been doing most of the writing.)

I must admit it has not been easy for me to deal with the guilt and tiredness that can come with trying to juggle all our different commitments in work, family and ministry, but looking back on the year I believe we have all grown from this time of unpredictability and change. There's always a bigger picture we can choose to find perspective in, isn't there? We are not only making do, but learning to continue extending roots in whatever season we might be in.

I have learnt how much I could actually be stretched while relying fully on God's grace to carry me through the various workshops and training sessions; the kids have learned to put on super flexible hats (their question for each evening has been. "Where are we going tomorrow?". Mark has been exploring exciting paths in his career and calling he'd never dreamed of. And I now have a little more empathy for working mums and the struggles they face. I am now actually looking forward to the end of the year, when we can hopefully slow things down a bit and enjoy time as a family. We have also learned to treasure the simple moments - scooting at the park, eating prata at the coffee shop, building Lego together.

The sort of moment I've learned to be thankful for this year - enjoying the company of my boys and time spent outdoors.
So... when it came to deciding which day of our schedules to write about, I had no idea which of our days to choose - because there has been no typical day for us in the longest time! I am nevertheless going to try to capture a snapshot of what our lives have been like in 2016.

7.30 am:

The alarm goes off. I wake Mark and the boys and we wash up and get ready for the day. We have our Classical Conversations Community Day once a week, which I currently direct and the boys both participate in. It's E's first year joining in, and Z's second year.
Our Classical Conversations Curriculum Guide. The curriculum is from the US and there are quite a few homeschooling communities doing the programme in Singapore.
We usually let our boys sleep in, so CC Day is an exception.
8:00 am:
I whip up a standard breakfast. Eggs done according to each one's preference. Sunny side up for Z and a large cheese omelette for E. On a good day, he wolfs down the entire thing. All three eggs and a slice of cheddar. Protein is good for growing boys!
E's classic breakfast. A cheesy omelette.
8:30 am: 
We get changed and scramble out of the house. I usually look like a karang guni lady, carrying all these bags with me. Thankfully, Mark has had his Friday mornings free to shuttle us to CC. And... it's Children's Day in school today! Homeschoolers should be able to join in the fun. There are goody bags waiting to be given out today, which I had fun packing the night before.
Our packing for the day - includes materials for the Science experiment, the kids' seat mats and Geography mats, and snacks and water. 
8.35 am:
In the car, and off we go. We usually play our CC Audio Memory Work CD on the go, so the kids can learn their new grammar and review what has been taught in previous weeks. 

We are currently striving to embrace the classical approach to education in our homeschool journey. There are three stages - Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric. Our kids are at the Grammar stage, where the emphasis is on learning to memorise what we call the "grammar" of each subject - History, Geography, Latin, Math, Science, English, and the Time Line of the World.  It might sound a bit intimidating at 4 years, but they are able to! 

We do all of this in a loving community, and the focus is not on perfect memorisation of the facts, but exposing the children to all these facts at an early age, such that when they get a bit older, they will start to connect the dots to what they have learned before. They are learning how to learn, which is a skill that will help them learn whatever else they need to learn in new subjects as they grow. Their minds are exposed to whatever is pure, noble and good at this age, and our prayer is that they continue to grow in an appreciation of beauty and excellence in their learning journeys.

A deep breath and a moment of thankfulness before the day begins.
Off we go! Still sleepy.
Snacking in the car... already!
Someone expressed a desire to borrow books from the library.
9.00 am:
We arrive at our class venue, set up, and start Community Day with a morning group assembly time. Our community is currently divided into two groups, the 4s to 6s and the 6s to 10s. Our boys are in the younger group. We have a time of prayer, worship, reciting the pledges of the various countries we come from, and there is also a family presentation time where one of the families shares something about themselves so we can get to know one another more. It's been wonderful hearing from everyone!
Morning Assembly as a whole group. We have 19 kids in total.
9.15 am:
We divide into our indvidual classes and the lesson begins. There are five segments to it: New Grammar, Science Project, Fine Arts, Presentations, and Grammar Review.
Practising the time line song. The children recite the whole time line of the world, from Creation to modern day, through songs and actions.
Super excited to have our first tin whistle lesson for Fine Arts this cycle!
E still finds it a challenge sitting through the entire 3-hour class. He paid full attention during the tin whistle segment, though! Looking forward to seeing how his interest develops over the weeks.
Time for the Science experiment. The purpose was to test out the hypothesis that different parts of the sun rotate at different speeds. We were reminded that the sun is made up of various burning gases!
Presentations are normally delivered after Science experiments and the
children learn public speaking from an early age.
12.00 pm:
Time for lunch! The kids are usually restless and starving by this time. My dearest mother came to help me with the boys this morning, and we enjoyed a peaceful lunch together at a nearby food centre before the boys went back to nap at my parents' place. They are usually bushed on CC days.
Learning gives one a voracious appetite.
2.30 pm:
Lunch is over, and I have tuition in the afternoons (working with children with learning difficulties referred to me by a friend who is an educational therapist). The kids usually go over to their grandparents' home to nap and spend the rest of the day, till we pick them up after dinner.
Winding down with their favourite toys at Kong Kong and Mama's house before nap time.
Who needs Kidzania when you have Kong Kong and Mama's?
6.30 pm:
They wake from their naps and have dinner. These two are still napping - and I am glad for that! Kids need lots of sleep in order to grow and for their brains to develop. Time for dinner. They love the food that Mama cooks, and they tell her all the time that she is a good cook! She is!

Macaroni soup. One of their favourites.
Red bean soup for dessert!
8.00 pm:
After dinner, it's play time. I would not, I repeat, would not, have gotten through the year with its heavy work commitments and still homeschooling, without the support of both sides of grandparents. I tell myself that the boys get loads of opportunities for play at my parents' place, and these contribute to the essential neurological development which they need in these early years. These experiences form building blocks for later literacy and numeracy skills. The most important part of it... curious, happy and confident kids. They are thriving with my Dad's crazy fun ideas and creativity and my Mum's unconditional love and nutritious food!

They get to play with Busy Town - well-preserved from when my sisters and I were this age!
Then it's time to battle Darth Vader before bed with the light sabers my sister got for their birthdays this year.
9.30 pm:
They wind down for the night with a time of reading, after milk and supper, and brushing teeth. They are staying over at the grandparents' tonight, because Mark and I have a dinner appointment.

It's bedtime at Mama's!
Z is into the Noddy series at the moment. I managed to get him some preloved copies from EBay! I used to love them at his age too.
Meanwhile, in an alternate universe at 7.30 pm:
We have made an appointment with our marriage mentors from church. This is something we decided very early on as a couple to do. L and R are an amazing couple with three older girls. We go to them with the issues that we might be struggling with - be it work or parenting. Heart to heart stuff. Much needed and welcomed. It's good to be accountable.

A much-needed and much-appreciated time!
At their home, we felt pampered, loved and encouraged. We also learned precious principles which we are going to apply in the days and weeks ahead. We will be better spouses and parents because of this time we have been blessed with. We are so grateful for the blessings that they are to us. And so thankful to the grandparents for always being able to watch our kids and have them overnight.

12.00 am:
We reach home, shower, and turn in for the night. I feel more rested than I have for a long time, despite the busy day we've had. 

This post pretty much sums up our lives so far this year... there's been a need for juggling, being flexible, taking deep breaths and finding refreshment from sources both sought after as well as unexpected. We drink deep when we can, in order to find strength to soldier on. And we choose to give thanks for the little and huge blessings of support, encouragement and love, from our parents and the community He's blessed us with. Still grateful and thankful, though tired. Always grateful.

Next up on the blog train is Jennifer, who writes from DinoMama.

Jennifer or DinoMama as she is fondly known as to some, is a full time working mum who believes home cooked meals are the best and tries to cook healthy meals for her family as often as possible. When she has done coaching DinoBoy with his school work or not playing & bonding with him, she will be sitting at a comfy corner in the house busy working something on her crochet hook. One day she hopes she will be able to be a full time stay at home mum where she can fuss over her family 24/7.

This post is part of the Day in a Life blog train hosted by Mum in the Making (link to Click on the button to take a peek into a day in a life of other mummies!