Critical Conversation: A Young Person’s Perspective on Hubbard Street 2 and "Harold and the Purple Crayon"

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Lola is a precocious young lady who lives with her family in New York City, She is a third-grade student at the Talented & Gifted School for Young Scholars (M012), and studies dance at The Ailey School and American Tap Dance Foundation.  On Sunday October 6, I was lucky to have Lola accompany me to Hubbard Street 2’s performance of “Harold and the Purple Crayon: A Dance Adventure,” at the NYU Skirball Center. Below is our post-performance, critical conversation, which offers a glimpse into the audience experience of young person attending a program-length work created specifically for children and families.  

Alejandra: Do you want to write down what you thought in my book and then I can write what I thought?

Lola: [pause] Um…not really.

A: Ok, cool, then I can write it down. First part…the bedroom scene! Do you remember that? At the very beginning?

L: Yeah, the dancer was holding a big purple crayon in that scene. But then, in the next parts, the purple crayon wasn’t there but Harold still drew. So, I got confused. What was Harold supposed to be drawing with—his fingers, or that crayon?

A: I thought that was a little odd too! In the book Harold and the Purple Crayon, Harold definitely draws his dreams into reality using the same purple crayon every time. Maybe they should have kept using that crayon prop the whole time.

L: Yeah, I think that would have been better. Or they could have used lights. It looked like they were going to use lights in the picture outside. I wonder why they made it look like that in the ad if they weren’t actually going to use the lights.

A: Good question, Lola.

L: Can they get in trouble for that?

A: Not really. Ok, next scene…the long straight path. Do you remember that one?

L: I think I liked it but I don’t really remember it. I guess it wasn’t very exciting.

A: It was the part when Harold went for a walk in the moonlight.

L: Oh yeah, I remember that part. There wasn’t a girl in the book though, so why did they add that in the show?

A: Hmm…not sure.

L: Me either.

A: Oh, the next scene was cool. Remember, the apple tree part? I liked watching the branches of the tree appear on the screen at the back of the stage.

L: But, where was the monster? In the book, Harold drew a monster.

A: Oh, why did he draw that?

L: Because after Harold drew his apple tree he realized that he needed someone to guard all of his lovely apples. So, he draws a monster! Why not in the show? I love the monster!

A: Maybe the monster would have been scary for the other kids? There were a lot of really little kids there, huh? You were probably the tallest.

L: Yeah, I’m tall.

A: You didn’t really seem to like the next part.

L: What part?

A: The ocean part…remember when the lights came on a little bit and they had us audience members wave our arms above our heads? You only put your arms up a little bit.

L: Well, I liked the ocean part because the audience got to interact. It made you feel like you were really making the waves, even though you weren’t. I didn’t really want to do it at first because it’s sort of a thing for little kids to do and I’m big. 

A: True. Ok, so after the ocean part Harold drew that boat. Remember that?

L: In the book, Harold needed a boat. He needed a boat because he had drawn an ocean and was in the water! That’s why he drew a boat! He didn’t just find one.

A: Was it different in the dance performance?

L: In the show it seemed like Harold noticed a boat that was already there. He was supposed to draw the boat. And in the show, he wasn’t in the boat…he was just looking at it. That made it seem like he didn’t need the boat.

A: Which he probably did if he was stuck in the middle of an ocean, huh?

L: Probably.

A: Next was the part where Harold took a nap on the shore. You thought this part was a little odd, right? Why was that?

L: Yeah! Now one of the women dancers was Harold. Or maybe she wasn’t.

A: Oh right! A woman dancer who wore the same costume as the man playing Harold just sort of took over that part, didn’t she?

L: I don’t know. Who was Harold? And why did he have to change people?

A: Did you think it was a good idea to have a woman dancing the role of Harold?

L: Not really. It’s called “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” and Harold is a boy’s name. I guess they could have changed the name to Alex because that works for girls and boys. But, then it would still be confusing because they kept changing the person on stage. All of the dancers got to be Harold at one point.

A: Yeah, I think all of that switching might have been confusing for the younger kids especially.

L: Yeah.

A: But, you liked the next part, when the woman ran in with the flag. Right?

L: Yeah!

A: Why was that?

L: Because it’s like “Whoa! Someone’s coming from the back!” And, that’s surprising. Plus, it makes you feel like you’re in the movie…or actually, the show.

A: Oooh, next was the picnic lunch!

L: [jumps up out of her chair] I loved that part. I really loved the props.

A: Can you tell me what you liked about the props?

L: Well, they threw pies into the scene. Except they weren’t really pies…they were stuffed.

A: Right. They threw those pie-shaped pillows across the stage and at eachother.

L: Yeah, they were stuffed with cotton.

A: So, why was it so cool that they threw those pie-shaped pillows on the stage?

L: I loved that because I thought they were going to draw the pies, since they had drawn everything else.

A: You’re right, that was surprising. Anything else you liked about the picnic, or just those pies?

L: I also really liked how the fox danced—it looked like she did a cool handshake.

A: She did a handshake?

L: Yeah, like [hand-game patterns at rapid-fire speed].

A: What’s that called, Lola?

L: I don’t know.

A: This was when they had that shadow section. Remember? When the dancers were behind the screen tracing the pictures that had been drawn on it?

L: I liked what the guy on the [stage right] side of the stage was doing.

A: Why did you like his shadows?

L: He looked like he was really drawing the pictures, not just tracing them. What about you…did you like that part?

A: I like the idea behind that part, but I think the pictures they put on the screen were too complicated for kids to trace them in the short amount of time they were up there. I think it would have worked better with fewer images, more time, and simple shapes.

L: Oh.

A: Would you change anything about the picnic scene?

L: Well, I think they need to work on their transitions. When they changed to the next scene they could make it look more different, so it’s obvious that they are changing.

A: What was the next scene? Oh, when Harold was climbing the mountain.

L: This part was really confusing because…where was the mountain?

A: Yeah, where was the mountain?

L: In the end, I think it was the purple thing on the screen.

A: I think you might be right. I kept wondering if it might be the dancers onstage. They made shapes that looked like mountains.

L: But then which one was climbing the mountain? They were all Harold at different times, they were all on the stage, and they were all wearing the same clothes, so I don’t know.

A: Me either. But those costumes were neat, right? What did you think?

L: Well, Harold is supposed to be in his pajamas so I liked that it was a sleeping outfit. But it was confusing because they all wore the same thing and I wasn’t sure who Harold was.

A: I wasn’t so sure about the costume color. What about you?

L: The white? It was really…blank. Maybe the outfit should have been purple.

A: Purple would have been great!

L: Yeah…

A: Once he got to the top of the mountain, Harold fell, right?

L: Yeah, I liked this part. I liked the props, especially the hot air balloon’s basket. But I noticed that the drawings finished showing up on the screen before the dancers

finished drawing them.

A: Good eye, Lola! I saw that too.  Anything else you noticed?

L: There just happened to be stars. How come? In the story it was just daytime, and now its nighttime?

A: Good point. What was up with that unexplained passage of time?

L: And, I wondered why another person was Harold now.

A: Right. The dancer switched again at this point.

L: And, what were all of the other dancers rolling on the ground under Harold’s balloon for?

A: No clue.

L: Me either.

A: Then, Harold landed safely…and this is when the dancers did the stomping dance. You probably liked this because the audience got to participate again.

L: I didn’t understand why the dancers were clapping and stomping with all of us and then just stopped. I wasn’t sure what to do then. Should I keep going or stop like they did? And if I kept going, what should I clap to? The music playing was a beat for them to dance to, not us to clap along with.

A: Yeah, most people stopped clapping pretty soon after the dancers did. It may have been tricky for the kids to remember that clapping rhythm without the dancers’ help, or maybe a little too challenging for to clap that rhythm while another one played in our ears.

L: What happened after the stomping?

A: Harold wanted to go home, but he couldn’t find his window. So he figured he would draw it. But, he couldn’t get the drawing quite right.

L: I liked that part, did you?

A: I wished that the images had shown up right when the dancers made the drawing movements.

L: Yeah, me too. And, shouldn’t it have just been Harold doing it, not all of the dancers?

A: Yeah, but who knows which one was Harold was at this point. Maybe they were all Harold, but I think that’s a little complicated for kids to grasp.

L: Harold was in the city next. But, he didn’t draw it…the windows ended up being a city. The Harold in the show just found stuff, he didn’t make any of it. But the people onstage who were acting like the people in NYC did funny stuff. [Rapidly circles her hands and forearms in opposite circular patterns, elbows and upper arms attached firmly to the sides of her torso. Wiggles her head slightly from side to side].

A: You mean the dancers in the jackets and coats?

L: Yeah.

A: How do you know they were people from NYC?

L: Because the buildings on the screen were so big.

A: You know, these dancers in this show are from Chicago, and that city has big buildings too. Maybe they were supposed to be in Chicago.

L: Maybe…hey, do you think that people from different places dance differently?

A: What do you think?

L: I think so…because of your culture. Then, you go somewhere else and it mixes.

A: You could be onto something there, Lola.

L: [Smiles].

A: How did Harold end up getting out of the city after all? Oh, the policeman! Remember him?

L: I don’t know what the policeman was doing and why he was telling Harold about the moon.

A: He was telling him to follow the moon because the moon was always in Harold’s bedroom window. So, if Harold followed the moon, he would find home.

L: Oh, I didn’t get that he was telling Harold to go to the moon or why. What did you think about the policeman?

A: The drawing didn’t really look friendly or human, and his hands were spooky. His fingers looked like spiky thorns, and it was hard to tell that his left hand was a finger pointing to the moon.

L: Yeah!

A: So, finally Harold arrives at home…

L: The end! I didn’t like the ending.

A: Why not?

L: Because of the changing of humans.

A: What’s that mean?

L: Now Harold was the same boy as in the beginning of the show. And now the purple crayon was back! Where had it gone?

A: How could the ending have been better?

L: Make it funnier. It’s a kids’ show and those are supposed to be funny.

A: Would you recommend this to other kids.

L: Yeah, for little kids, because it’s really cool and active. It’s modern dance, and they’re really moving.

A: Alright, so what ages?

L: Four…or three…or two…or one. Those kids are little enough so they wouldn’t notice all the problems.

A: Ha!

L: [smiles]

A: You done with your milkshake?

L: Yes.

A: Anything else we need to say about the show?

L: I don’t think so, actually.

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