Top tips for designing a set when the show is for babies and little ones age 0-3

5 July 2018

Every set designer endeavours to help tell a story, create atmosphere and arouse emotion, but when audience members are very young – sometimes just a few weeks old – there’s a lot of other important things to take into account!

In designing the set for MamaBabaMe, a show created for babies and young children up to the age of 3, visual artist Yvonne Buskie had to take into account the huge developmental leaps that children go through during their first three years of life.

“I worked closely with creator Christine Devaney from MamaBabaMe’s inception. The performance explores the connection between babies and the adults in their lives, so how can the physicality of my set complement and enhance what the dancers and musician create?

A feeling of safety and comfort

“The process is very creative. We began thinking about bodies and a child growing inside, protected.  The set evolved as something circular, cosy and soft – soft enough to cuddle up to was my aspiration!  It’s hopefully somewhere both young and older audiences will feel safe and comfortable.”

A feeling of safety and comfort is particularly important in performances for young children. Yvonne has previously worked as a stage manager with Starcatchers’ Blue Block Studio and Catherine Wheels’ award-winning production White and has witnessed the vastly different reactions of children as they enter a set for the first time.

Introduce a child gradually

She finds that introducing a child gradually to a new space so that they have time to process the change in their environment can work well.

“With MamaBabaMe a giant mobile is above children in the area where they take off their shoes, just within reach of the set. It’s a gentle buffer, introducing something different.

“Once inside, Simon Wilkinson’s beautiful lighting, which gently ebbs through the space as the audience enters, plays a big part in helping to create a welcoming atmosphere.

Space to move around

“I also wanted to ensure there is space to move around. It’s a small area and we have to take into account the dancers’ movement but I think it’s very important that those children who can move around independently are able do so during the performance. Some toddlers will sit captivated for the duration but most want to move around at some point, have a bit of time away from the performance and then come back – they’re not designed to sit still.”

Even for younger children who can’t yet walk or crawl, it’s important that they don’t feel restricted and have space to move their arms and ‘bounce’.

Make it multi-sensory

The youngest babies are mostly held by an adult and for them the multi-sensory nature of the set is particularly important – the texture of the fabric, lighting and also their line of sight.

“Even though very young children’s eyes aren’t developed enough to see every detail, they will follow the movement of the dancers, the shadows and the mobile above.”

MamaBabaMe is a beautiful dance, physical theatre and live music experience created especially for babies and children aged 0-3 and their grown-ups – a co-produced by Starcatchers and Curious Seed.

Yvonne Buskie graduated from the School of Drawing and Painting, Edinburgh College of Art. She has many years’ experience collaborating with theatre, dance and visual art practitioners creating live performances and arts experiences for babies and young children.