Baking Time combines the right ingredients at the Vancouver International Children’s Festival

The newly rebuilt play for preschoolers fires up all the senses with puppets, music, and fresh bread

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      With hands-on participation, vivid puppetry, live music, and the smell and taste of fresh bread, Baking Time is a kids’ show with a recipe that appeals to all the senses.

      “When you come in, you can feel the ingredients, you can smell bread getting baked, you can smell what yeast smells like when it’s active. Plus, there’s music, so there’s a sensory experience for the ears,” says director Kim Selody, speaking to the Straight from the early-childhood-focused WeeFestival in Toronto.

      These days, theatre for young children is blossoming in North America, but when Selody, then artistic director of Ontario’s Carousel Players, created Baking Time for two- to five-year-olds with England’s Oily Cart Theatre in 2002, it was a relatively new field.

      “This is where their interest lay,” Selody says of the U.K. kids’-theatre pioneers. “All their shows were operating on the premise of firing on all the senses—all of their shows would start with ‘What are they going to see? What are they going to touch? What are they going to taste? What are they going to smell?’ With this work, you’re trying to engage the audience and put them in a world that opens up their sensors. There’s an actual scientific basis for this: if you’re anxious or scared, your little receptors close things off. And if your sensors are stimulated, then your sensors open up and you learn more.”

      Two years ago, Selody, who was by then in his current position of artistic director of Presentation House Theatre, returned with a creative team to England to revisit the work with Oily Cart’s Tim Webb, Angela Bond, Max Reinhardt, and designer Claire de Loon.

      Just like the first time around, the process of rebuilding the play was meticulous, taking into consideration everything from health and safety regulations to the unpredictability of having preschoolers interact with the work. “Tim would always say, ‘It’s a military operation,’ ” Selody says with a laugh. “The logistics and developing the piece had to be done in phases, so you could see how three- and four-year-olds respond to certain things, on top of working with educators and adults who work with children to deal with their concerns.

      “You use trial and error,” he continues. “You get a small group of children and try a section out, see how they respond, and rework it.”

      Selody says the team added live music by cello and accordion to Baking Time’s story of master chefs Bun and Bap, who are wrangling an accidentally overyeasted batch of dough. They also redesigned the puppets, which take the form of everything from a Yeasty Beasty to a newly baked baby bun.

      New dietary ideas also had to be worked into the updated plot.

      “What’s been fascinating is the understanding of gluten and controversy around it; it wasn’t what it is now,” Selody notes, adding only half jokingly: “It ended up being perhaps the most political piece I’ve ever done. So we have gluten-free options, we’ve created a character who doesn’t eat wheat, we show that just because you’re celiac doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy baking.” It’s also meant carefully containing a small flurry of flour that takes place on-stage. “I absolutely love the challenge,” Selody adds.

      In many ways, Baking Time is even more relevant today than it was 16 years ago. With families’ ever-more-harried lives and the convenience of processed foods, the fun and magic of baking together is often forgotten or lost.

      “In a way it kind of reminds people about what a joyful experience it is—and how easy it is,” Selody says. “All it takes is yeast, flour, water, salt, and a little oil. A pinch of sugar and that’s it! In 23 minutes it’s done!”

      The Vancouver International Children’s Festival presents Baking Time on Monday and Tuesday (May 28 and 29) and next Friday through Sunday (June 1 to 3) at Performance Works.

      Places to go nearby

      Approx. 15 minutes away