Belinda The CowPatch Theatre Company is young and healthy and on an award winning roll.

Last year the children’s theatre company played to record-breaking audiences - 90,000 nationally and internationally. This year Patch broke new ground by performing at the dedicated children’s theatre – the New Victory Theatre on 42nd Street. (That’s the old Oscar Hammerstein theatre in New York for those not in the know.) Now Patch has topped the Australian children’s theatre talent winning the 2008 Helpmann’s Award for Best Presentation for Children for its show Mr McGee and the Biting Flea.
 
Artistic director Dave Brown couldn’t be happier. Brown was already thrilled when his company won the Adelaide Critics Circle Award for innovation last year.
 
“This is icing on the cake”, he says. In fact the Helpmann Award may just add a little bit of kudos that helps Brown seal a deal for Patch to perform in Washington DC.
 
The company has been around for 35 years and focuses on 4 to 8 year olds. It has undergone several metamorphoses and now has a set of guidelines for selecting, creating and performing plays that helps it gain its reputation for excellent children’s theatre.
 
Patch has a repertoire of eight appealing children’s plays including favourites such as Emily Loves to Bounce and Sharon Keep Ya Hair On. It has toured nationally to regional areas as well as performing at the Sydney Opera House. Its reputation is also growing internationally having performed in countries such as Japan, Korea, Canada, USA, New Zealand and Singapore.
 
Brown says Patch’s shows are universal in their appeal. “Music is hugely important for children’s comprehension of the world, as are visual images. Our pieces are layered, sophisticated but still accessible.” He says the appeal of Mr McGee and the Biting Flea is its “innovative visual languages mixed with challenging music.”
{xtypo_quote_right}We live in a world that values logic and anything that can be quantified. Creativity can’t be quantified. I try to think in terms of what genuinely excites me and the artists and hopefully the kids{/xtypo_quote_right}  
Mr McGee presents six whimsical stories by award-winning children’s writer Pamela Allen in a fast-paced and charming production. “The stories are beautifully written by Pamela Allen,” Brown says. “Her style is wonderful. The whole of the show is musicalised with strong physical elements. It works for the kids.”
 
It is clear that the kids are Brown’s main focus as he talks passionately about the process of choosing shows such as Mr McGee.

“All of our shows are made by theatre people,” Brown says. "We choose the stories and I spend a lot of time looking for things that excite me. Each choice is always for a different reason. It always comes out of a long period of research.
 
“For the next three years we are looking at the theme of happiness. I started doing research and came across the concept of the medicine shows of the 1900s that traveled from town to town. Further research unraveled that these were the origins of marketing and the notion that can buy a product and therefore buy happiness.”

 
From this Patch’s next show was born – Dr Smith’s Medicine Show which will be performed next March.
 
Brown is proud of Patch, and also proud to be associated with children’s theatre, which he says is particularly strong in South Australia. He applauds the successive governments that have supported children’s theatre and helped garner an international reputation for South Australia.
 
Brown Bread Honey However, it is clear that Patch’s success remains only partly due to the government and its continue support of youth arts, and partly due to Brown’s success in choosing works. Mostly it is clear that the ongoing success is because of the magic that the team, led by Brown, continues to create for the children.
 
“Children will let you know,” Brown says. “I have a great passion for the arts for kids, to encourage intuition, to teach them the values of the heart and the emotions. We live in a world that values logic and anything that can be quantified. Creativity can’t be quantified. I try to think in terms of what genuinely excites me and the artists and hopefully the kids.
 
“Our mantra is a saying by Pablo Picasso which goes something like, ‘every child is an artist and the challenge is to keep them an artist as they grow up.’
 
“Four to eight years olds have such fresh eager eyes. It is an ideal place for theatre to be”
.


For further information, visit: www.patchtheatre.org.au


Images:-
Top Right - Michaela Cantwell as Belinda the Cow in Mr. McGee and the Biting Flea
Bottom Right - Paul Blackwell cooking up the story of Brown Bread and Honey in Mr McGee and the Biting Flea
Photos - Sarah Long

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