The More You Look: An Experimental Opera for Babies

Welcome to the Thingyverse

With peekaboo holes and playful hats, babbles and snorts, melody and movement – The More You Look takes a close look at the process of discovering what a thing might be.

Watch an excerpt from our October 2018 workshop performance of The More You Look:

“Baby Helen loved it and it was great to attend a performance with her where we didn’t have to stress out about her being a (very vocal) toddler.”

Thingyverse Productions was founded by artists Emily Greenleaf, Susie Lee and Ying Zhou and now includes Jenn Brandon. We think of our work as taking place in a kind of metaphorical courtyard; a space into which all are welcomed. While our performances are designed to inspire the imaginations of our youngest humans, we recognize that the adults in our audiences are also given an important opportunity — to laugh with their children, to sing with them, dance with them, and to connect with other families. In making these pieces, we draw from many artistic disciplines, including music, dance, storytelling, sculpture, fiber arts, and visual arts.

“The entire thing was amazing, but I really enjoyed watching the reactions of the babies. How they engaged with the performance.”

Why make opera for babies, you ask.

Why wouldn’t you?

Our ancestors were carving bone flutes and painting on cave walls forty thousand years ago. Making art is clearly part of what makes us human, how we grapple with the wondrous, the mysterious, the difficult, the unknown, and the too-big-to-describe-with-mere-words. And who grapples more with all these things than small humans in their first years of life, for whom everything is new and yet to be understood? Surely babies are as deserving of art, as consumers, as makers, and participants, as any other age group?

Empathy and connection.

Every age group has something to learn from the others. Because we don’t remember our own experiences as babies, it’s easy to think: what’s the point of making art for the under-three set? They won’t remember it, anyways.

Of course, we don’t remember learning to walk or learning our first language, either, but no one disputes the usefulness of developing these skills.

I rather like the gentler approach of the nineteenth century Russian philosopher Alexander Herzen, here paraphrased by Tom Stoppard in his 2014 play Shipwreck: The Coast of Utopia:

“Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up. But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what lives only for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment.”

Creating art for babies makes you the artist think empathetically about what it is to be a small human, doubling in size every few months, taking it all in. It gives us the big humans a glimpse back into the experience.

Finally, babies have a lot to teach us as performing artists; about what is scary and what is funny; about how we move and how we hold back; they make us think of what we’re modeling for the next generation in how we use our bodies and voices. Performing for babies is a powerful way to learn to sing with love and caring, to find a relaxed yet focused stage presence. To hone these skills with babies is a gift that the performer can then take to any audience. 

As art makers, failing to take babies seriously as an audience says a lot more about us than them.