Lil’ Flora (小花) is the story of an ordinary little girl and the importance of the ordinary things of an ordinary life. The show, primarily intended for children, is far from being an ordinary piece of children’s theater, though. It is the creation of Ifkids (如果兒童劇團), which is inspired and led by comedian, actor, TV show host and playwright Chao Tzu-chiang (趙自強).
In a press statement, Chao said he was inspired to create Lil’ Flora in response to the M-shaped society (M型社會), in which ordinary people are caught between poverty and the super-rich and children are exposed daily to the cult of celebrity. Chao is something of a minor star himself.
The show boasts the kind of talent and production values that many adult dramatic productions might envy. Lil’ Flora’s stage design is based on two rotating platforms and it stars Golden Melody winner Peggy Hsu (許哲珮)in the leading role.
The show’s conception, however, is somewhat different from that of conventional children’s theater. Victor Chen (陳世軍), Ifkids’ public relations director, said Lil’ Flora is not about creating interaction between the actors and the audience, but is intended to establish a talking point between parents and their children.
“Something that I have found over the years is that children understand much more of the world around them than we think,” he said. “They might not be able to express what they feel, but they know. So our aim is always to go a little further.”
At the premiere last Friday, the mood among the diminutive audience was exultant as Chao appeared on video to introduce the story in his now well-known role of Grandma Fruits (水果奶奶) .
Though not a frequent attendee of children’s theater, I nevertheless recognized the young audience’s response: They were in the presence of a powerful brand name, and Chao’s many years working in children’s TV had clearly paid off.
WHAT: Lil’ Flora by Ifkids
WHEN: Today and tomorrow at 7:30pm; tomorrow and Sunday at 10:30 and 2:30pm
WHERE: Novel Hall (新舞台), 3-1 Songshou Rd, Taipei City (台北市松壽路3-1號)
TICKETS: NT$300 to NT$850 for tomorrow night and morning shows tomorrow and on Sunday; NT$350 to NT$1,000 for other performances
ON TOUR: Lil’ Flora will also show at the National Taichung Library Chungsing Concert Hall (台中中興堂), 291-3 Jingwu Rd, Taichung City (台中市精武路291-3號) at 2:30pm and 7:30pm on Oct. 11 and at the Performing Arts Center of the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Hsinchu County (新竹縣文化中心演藝廳), 146 Xianzheng 9th Rd, Chubei City, Hsinchu County (新竹縣竹北市縣政九路146號) at 2:30pm and 7:30pm on Nov. 22
Chao won the Golden Bell Award (金鐘獎) in 2000 and 2001 for best host of a children’s program (最佳兒童節目主持人獎), and he continues to raise the bar for children’s theater in Taiwan.
What followed was a full-on musical with all the bells and whistles, and one that was well-pitched to Taiwan’s media-savvy children.
The ability to express complex issues in simple language is much underrated, and Lil’ Flora is a showpiece of Chao’s talent in this regard.
The story of a little flower girl who gets dragged into the music industry to “ghost” the voice of a newly minted celebrity for her music video and ends up transforming the people she meets with her simplicity and honesty is a very long way from either Grimms’ fairy tales or Sesame Street.
The show makes allusions to reality talent shows, celebrities manufactured by the music industry, and the nefarious role of the paparazzi. Its producers seem to believe that most kids over about 4 or 5 are aware of the excesses of Next magazine even if they don’t exactly come to grips with the more lurid details.
This was rather refreshing for someone who has long believed children’s theater was the province of adults who condescend to children in an effort to create the illusion of a purer and more innocent world for themselves.
There are plenty of uplifting songs about looking on the bright side, of being yourself, of celebrities being just people with plenty of human weaknesses, and so on. For good measure Lil’ Flora includes a subplot and a song about the value of recycling (the heroine’s father is a garbage collector). It’s all nicely packaged, with catchy tunes, spirited acting, and a big concert sequence, the only fault being, perhaps, that at around two-and-a-half hours, the whole affair was a little long for some of the audience members.