The Malta Independent 7 December 2019, Saturday

Noli Supplement: Theatre tests our levels of empathy

Wednesday, 13 November 2019, 09:31 Last update: about 23 days ago

Therese Comodini Cachia

Culture and theatre are big words for kids but I know some kids who really excel in their appreciation of exactly what those two very big words mean. Culture and theatre for kids is all about colours, costumes, words, actions, emotions, expressions, discussion and imagination. And this is something I find kids simply love to enjoy. They are fascinated by the experience that fosters their imagination and deepens their understanding or questioning of what is around us, who we are and what we can be.

I never forget my own fascination with theatre, museums and social gatherings when I was a child. Each experience introduced me to something new or indeed held answers to some of my questions.

Would your children believe you if you told them that hippos or small-sized elephants lived in their very own country? Would they believe you if you told them that even in Malta "we" used to paint on walls, offer sacrifices to the gods, had elaborate underground caves, performed rituals underground? Would they believe you if you told them that "we" have buildings that are older than the pyramids? Well they don't need to believe your words, but they can certainly feel the dampness at Ghar Dalam Cave and imagine the hippos and elephants living by that cave. They can see the paintings on the wall and can feel the darkness in the underground structure at the Hypogeum or the Catacombs. All this helps them understand not mere scientific or historic facts, but gives them a sense of history that encompasses the past and their present.

The theatre is a swell of a time - in just one or two hours sitting there you will feel intertwined with the story being told on stage, the costumes travelling back or forth in time, the singing, the facial expression, the emotions expressed by the actors. Two hours forgetting everything around you and focusing on only that which is developing within the theatre. Even when I simply could not understand what the performance was all about, it was still fascinating for me as a child to sit amid others enchanted with the performance, all dressed up for the occasion, surrounded by a sense of a community sharing an experience, having a laugh together or shedding a tear. There is one thing I always feel the theatre and the cinema manages to do really well - it tests our levels of empathy. How can you fully experience a story if you cannot feel the emotions being expressed?

Culture is of course more than just the theatre, museums, cinema, exhibitions and other performances. It is really the way we are, we live and grow together as individuals within a community. It is also about how we react to what happens around us, and how we do that as individuals but also how we come together to act together. To me, culture includes the environment in all its aspects. It includes how we look at and shape our physical environment, how we design our space but also how we use it and what we make out of it. Culture therefore includes seeking children's opinion on issues which affect their environment.

Culture is also more than mere entertainment. What irritates us may also be part of a culture which exists in our community and we all need to learn how to react and respond to this. It is part of a culture to understand that we are all equal in dignity and consequently deserve the same level of respect irrespective of the country in which we were born. It is part of a culture to understand the need to protect diversity, equality, freedom of expression and freedom to be oneself within a community. By no means can I claim that I have gained full or indeed correct understanding of all this, but participating in cultural events has certainly given me a small view into the world of others, a world or life that is different from my own but in which we still share some similarities. Participation in cultural events is a strong and fun way of helping children develop their own personality and ways while introducing them to other personalities, life experiences as well as provide them with a sense of community.

 

Dr Comodini Cachia is the PN Spokesperson for Culture & Media


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