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“Pretend” and “real” meet at the theatre

On the second to last Saturday of April, children from substitute homes and safe houses all over Estonia had the chance to see a performance of the musical “Pippi Longstocking” at the Estonia Theatre. Pippi shouting “Tiddelipom and piddeliday!” has entertained audiences for more than five years; although Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi has made several generations of children laugh and contemplate life.

In some families, the children were a bit wary of going to see Pippi, as they thought of it as something for the little ones. However, when they picked up the book again, the opportunity to see it on stage also sparked interest in the older children. During the last week before the play, the children were already counting the days until they could travel to Tallinn. On the morning of the big day, a young girl was very keen on getting her hair braided just like Pippi. Having gotten her braids, she jumped around the room gleefully.

When travelling to the capital, the children once again went over who Pippi, Tommy and Annika were, and reminisced about the films and cartoons they had seen and the book they had read. The also talked about the plays they had seen before at the Estonia Theatre.

One family, who arrived from outside Tallinn, parked their car by the Kristiine shopping centre and travelled in the city via public transport. The smaller children learned why they need the green card and marvelled how a ticket can be bought with it. As the family had already been to the Estonia Theatre several times before, the children were able to practice their orienteering skills. On the ride to Tallinn and, later, home, the children were given the task of memorising three of the bigger places they passed through. This helped them learn a little bit more about Estonia. Later, when they were back at home, they were able to trace their trip on a map.

The magic world of theatre

After they arrived at the theatre, it was time to forget about the real world for a few hours. The theatre is a world of its own, which starts in wardrobe. Children are quick to learn this and it is great that they want to experience it again and again. Because how can one want something when they have not experienced it?

Each trip to the theatre is special and one-of-a-kind. The children love that they have different seats each time they visit the Estonia Theatre. Watching the play from the balcony was fascinating for the children, if only for the opportunity to look down on the floor seats below. They looked at the surroundings and shared their joy over what they saw – how small were the people below and how fancy the ceiling above. The festive clothes made them feel special and more confident. The boys, who are usually very active, tried to be calmer and mind their manners, as the beautiful hall and the audience dressed in their best provoked emotions and the need to share their amazement with the teachers and each other.

Many of the children had not been to the theatre before – this made them even more curious, waiting for the trip with anticipation. There was a particularly active and bright little boy in one family, who was especially eager to take in all the marvels of the new environment. He immediately noticed the paintings in the ceiling and sighed at how pretty and powerful they were. He then wondered about where the show would take place – the curtains came up to the edge of the stage – and asked, whether the actors will really be “in that hole”. The teacher explained that the stage is hidden behind the curtains and the orchestra will play in “the hole”. When some of the characters came to the audience while singing during the play, the boy was immediately ready to come and join them... “Why can’t I?” he wondered, “but they asked!?” He learned that in the theatre he must stay in his place, so that the story could continue.

A glimmer of great joy could be seen in the eyes of many of the children who were visiting the theatre for the first time. There were also little explorers of the world, such as Alexandra, who enjoyed the show in quiet, without looking away – which is nothing like her – and who were left speechless by the show.

One small girl, however, was so scared by the first fireworks that she sat on the floor for at least half of the first act and would not sit back on her chair. After 20 minutes, she timidly peered over the edge of the balcony to see what was going on. At the end of the act she had almost resumed her place in her seat. The child sat on bravely on her seat for the whole duration of the second act. Now, each time when the girl meets the neighbours’ mother, with whom they took the trip, she asks her when they will be going to the theatre again.

“Was this for real?”

When the curtain opened, the children’s eyes were glued to the stage. Of course, they were waiting for Pippi Longstocking, the main character. And here she was, with her red braids, colourful dress and freckles.

Laura had trouble understanding if the activity on the stage was reality or were the people in costumes. She would constantly mix up reality and fiction, asking anxiously throughout the play: “Was this for real?” When it started to snow on the stage, she felt that this must be “real”. Some of the children from the home, having been through enough to know that life is not a game, learned that it is also possible to enact the life of a brave child on stage, in the theatre.

Those children who did not understand Estonian also watched the show keenly, as the language of music is understood without words. The children were astonished at how Pippi was allowed to live alone and did not have to go to school. There were a lot of questions about how a little girl can be strong enough to take on big robbers and smart enough to come up with so many tricks. It was very funny to see how Pippi, when she first met the other children at the beginning of the show, demonstrated how people talk and move in different countries. For many, their favourite place was when Pippi’s father, Efraim Longstocking, and Pippi were reunited and greeted each other by sticking out their tongues.

There was laughter, there was something to think about, and there was a bit of sadness, too

In addition to Pippi, Tommy and Annika the children loved Mr. Nilsson, who the smaller ones thought was a real monkey – like the one they had seen at the zoo. The boys were entertained by the monkey’s jokes, events with the robbers, the colourful carousel and big candy stand. Martin was anxious to know who was hiding in Mr. Nilsson’s costume. When the teacher said that Nilsson is played by a human, one of the boys asked: “But how can he sound like a monkey?” So they tried themselves to imitate a monkey. Some of them were quite skilled at it and everyone got a good laugh.

Tanja was moved by the part where Pippi talked with her mother, who is an angel in heaven. In the show, Tommy, Annika and Pippi made an oath and took a pill so that they would never grow up. Ele became quite fond of the idea. Martin and Mihhail were amazed by the native islanders’ dance. Their brown costumes, grass masks and music were even a bit intimidating.

There was a part in the play where Pippi had to go to school and the actors went among the audience to find the necessary things. A chocolate medal was found at one of the families and Aleksandra was able to keep it. She was so surprised and happy when the actor handed her the chocolate. Andra and Aleksandra would love to go to school like Pippi, lying on their stomach, not required to give the right answer to the teacher’s questions.

Even the smallest theatre-lovers watched the show quietly and attentively, from time to expressing their surprise in a subdued voice. When the intermission came, the children were disappointed that the story ended so vast...

“The monkey wrote so fast!”

During intermission, the children were able to greet the actors in person. Marko got autographs from Pippi, Annika and Tommy on his programme. Quite a queue of children had formed in front of Pippi, all looking for an autograph. Marko loved the opportunity to meet the actors – singing, dancing and getting pictures taken together was great fun. Katja also looked at the characters in awe, but was afraid to approach them for a picture. She was, however, very interested in Mr. Nilsson, following the monkey throughout the whole intermission and even forgetting to eat.

The children were happy to see that they could also get an autograph from Mr. Nilsson. That monkey wrote so fast,” said one girl. After the play there was a workshop where the children could dance and sing with Pippi. Another girl, who would only observe what was going on from the teacher’s lap, was at once willing and the only one who was brave enough to sing Pippi’s song with Pippi and take a few dance steps.

There was also a workshop with the opera singer Angelika Mikk, who told the children about the difference between a musical play and an opera and performed a song. Some children tried to sing the same way at home and realised that it is a lot more complicated than it looks.

Was Pippi ever real?

On the way back home, the children discussed the fact that, while the play was great fun, you cannot and are not allowed to try everything Pippi did in real life. Martin said: “It is OK to play some tricks and make jokes at home, so that the teacher does not get mad.” Andra and Aleksandra wondered: “It would be so funny to be like Pippi at school – would the teacher get very angry with us?”

Marko really loved the decorations with the carousel, house, boat and shop. There was also question after question coming from the children. Was Pippi ever real? When did all this happen? The children also said that they would like to be more like Pippi.

Each child received their very own Pippi book as a gift to look at and read at home. There were quite a few families where they compared the situations they saw on stage with the book and cartoons, finding a lot of similarities, but also differences- One small child still keeps “reading” aloud the book received from the theatre. Regardless of the child’s speech impediment, the child knows the characters from Pippi very well. So, as the school-aged children are reading their compulsory books in the living room, the youngest child has also curled up with the book. One of the older boys volunteered to read a bedtime story for everyone that night.

The pretty and functional programmes offered activities for later – colouring, cutting and sticking, and solving crossword puzzles. What is more, they could get autographs there when meeting the actors!

While there are a lot of jokes and fun in the story of Pippi, it also teaches children that you deserve happiness even when you are different from others. It is a story of friendship and mutual understanding. The children saw that it is not necessarily a bad thing to be different, but it is always important to be yourself.


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