It now seems to be settled science that the original notion of play, unfettered with schedules and structure, is disappearing. I choke a little on that dismal thought. How would I have survived without it?
Before Google, we played everywhere and anywhere: in our back yards, alleys, school yards and in my case, the rec room of my childhood home. I poked about for props and imagined scenarios with my four siblings and the Jones brothers next door (not a boy band but just regular boys next door). We didn’t know what cool was yet and there were few defining limits except the call to come for supper. Our notions came from the source material we knew best—stories and rhymes, devoid of pop culture.
I returned to that rec room, or one I recognised fully, at a zany new show, Alligator Pie, produced by the new Creation Ensemble of the Soulpepper theatre company in Toronto.
There, five talented performers create whimsical set pieces around the poetry of Dennis Lee , who wrote Alligator Pie in 1974. Many are set to music like Tricking, a poem about a three-year-old picky eater. On stage, the picky eater in question become a rapper with sass. The audience hooted their approval, as did my four-year-old nephew and theatre escort. Other moments use props pulled from boxes as if just discovered and viewed as new found play gear. It is not all perfect. Nor is play in the best sense.
Like our childhood capers, the show is quirky, weird and wonderful.
Joining us at the show was my oldest daughter, now seventeen, also quite familiar with the source material. If parenting young children presents the longest days and shortest years, then Dennis Lee saved my sanity. For an hour before lights out, Serious Mom was shelved and out came Silly Mom who bounced and ballyhooed about the bedroom. It was better than Tylenol, healthier than booze. My teen was as tickled as I was to revisit that cherished time as we watched an audience full of school kids giggle in their seats. 38 years later, Dennis Lee’s poetry done up in this fresh sweet spin had me rappin’ with them all.
I owe a great deal to this kind of poetry as a mom almost out of tricks at sundown, and as a child who loved mucking about in my rec room. Alligator Pie, the show, gave me yet another reminder to be fearlessly creative.
The show continues through the month. Find a kid and go. Or be one yourself for an hour. The audience is a good place to soar.
If you forget the text of this classic, here’s a little reminder: