When I was a child I hated children’s theatre. I know that’s not really the strongest lead to use for a blog post promoting a TYA (theatre for young audiences) show. It was SO true, though. Why did shows for kids ALWAYS have to come with some sort of through-woven, family-friendly moral? Young Sam (and, OK, old Sam too) was impatient and weary of holier-than-thou attitudes. All I wanted to see were some funny actors who would tell me a good story! Mom and Dad could take care of teaching me that right/wrong stuff, right? So, when in what should be one of the more highly-dramatic, moral-laden moments in The Wong Kids, Violet and Bruce instead get caught up in a rambling, rather pointless conversation with two very articulate boulders named Gyoza and Gimbop, the 10-year-old inside me was awfully jealous that I never got to see TYA like The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra GO!
Lloyd Suh’s weird, wonderful space adventure speaks to the young me that wanted to be treated like I was grown-up. It’s witty, verbose, and gently sarcastic in that way preteens crave to be. More Spongebob than Sesame Street, it captures that wonderful propensity ‘90s cartoons had for speaking to their audiences directly, with kids’ entertainment at the forefront, parent’s (often bemused) amusement at a strong second, and educational agendas at a distant third. The entertainment I grew up loving was surprisingly void of direct, in-your-face educational content or moralizing, and instead focused on presenting interesting characters in empathetic ways. If I learned anything from watching cartoons, it was simply to treat others with kindness and use common sense—no more and no less.
As adults, we hardly question our right to go to the theatre for an evening of silly, irreverent entertainment—why can’t children’s theatre be given the same freedom? In today’s ready-for-college-by-Kindergarten educational environment, the case for giving kids “light” entertainment is harder and harder to make. However, it’s shows like The Wong Kids that remind us why imagination and humor should always be the first things we reach for when trying to impart an educational message, rather than pretention or self-righteousness. Children have the capacity to accept almost any given circumstances, empathize with almost any character, and follow almost any plot—no matter how ridiculous. We should embrace those capacities instead of trying to shape them—and The Wong Kids does so with enthusiastic gusto. More than anything else, it meets kids where they’re at—and nothing would have pleased 10-year-old Sam better than a show which didn’t try to talk down to him.
None of this is to say that The Wong Kids skimps on a strong moral underpinning—it certainly doesn’t. In fact, at a time when political contenders are playing on our capacity to divide ourselves and give into mistrust because of our differences, a message of tolerance and acceptance might be the most needed thing in the theatre right now. Happily, The Wong Kids doesn’t preach a message of tolerance and empathy, it practices it.
The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra GO! is playing in the Mainstage Theatre at the Paramount Center from FEB 20 – MAR 6. Visit our website for more information and tickets.