BWW Interview: Miranda Larson Talks LITTLE BABY BUM LIVE
Miranda Larson is a writer and director for children's TV and theatre. Her current project is the stage version of the massively popular YouTube channel Little Baby Bum, which combines animated videos with traditional nursery rhymes and children's songs. Little Baby Bum Live is now touring the UK.
What stories do you remember from your childhood?
I was brought up on Dr Seuss, and always remember the weird and wonderful way he encouraged children to look at things differently. The rhythm of the words was beautiful and his characters were out of the ordinary - that inspires the imagination. His books felt interactive, and almost like a song. I was very lucky as a child as bedtime reading was a big event and I remember it fondly.
When did you first become interested in creating theatre for children?
I've always enjoyed children's narrative, from books to films to plays, but I fell into the world of children's theatre when I was asked to cover a friend's drama workshop (I was studying drama at university at the time). With a group of six- to eight-year-olds, we created a small show for parents, and suddenly it clicked that I wanted to create for children. So, I started out in regional children's theatre creating shows for and with children.
What were the most important lessons you learned? Any preconceptions challenged, or ways your audiences surprised you?
That creating for children is easy. It's not. It's actually harder than creating something for grown-ups. First you have to consider the vast developmental differences between age groups. A show might have to appeal to two to four-year-olds, but there are vast differences between what a two-year-old understands and what a four-year old understands and is interested in.
Also, children are incredibly honest. When they don't like something, they tell you, and it's hard to win them back.
When did you first come across Little Baby Bum, and what excited you about it?
It was back in 2016 when I first heard a buzz about it all. I loved the traditional values of the concept and how parents could share it with their children, as everyone knew the nursery rhymes. I was excited to be part of something new.
I hadn't heard of a YouTube sensation being developed for stage before. It was a real privilege to be able to give the characters a voice and develop their personalities beyond YouTube. It was certainly fun coming up with ways to bring the world of Little Baby Bum to life!
For those you don't know it, tell us a bit about the premise and the characters that you've translated to stage
I wanted to include recognisable settings from the YouTube channel and give them a purpose of being brought together in a story. As the "map of this world" and how everything sits together is new for the audience, our show is led by two bumbling Tour Guides who are taking the audience around the world of Little Baby Bum.
It just so happens that the audience have arrived on the day of the Little Baby Bum parade. But Mia has forgotten to do something for the parade, so joins the tour guides and visits her friends for an idea. We get to see Mia, Jacus, Baa Baa, Stan the Monster, Incy Spider, Super Pig and many new characters. There are actually over 20 characters in the show.
Why do you think children love it, and which elements/themes did you want to retain?
I think Little Baby Bum works because it combines two things: recognisable and catchy nursery rhymes with a warm world of characters. It was the community feel of the characters that I wanted to keep and develop for stage. The characters get to play a part in different nursery rhymes - they become familiar for the audience, and it's exciting for children to see what song they will appear in next.
What was the most challenging and most fun thing about the adaptation process?
The most challenging element was bringing the characters out of the nursery rhymes and giving them a voice, and developing their personalities. Previously, we only knew the characters through the songs. I watched a lot of the nursery rhymes and analysed their behaviour and reactions to decide what type of character they were going to be.
I always enjoy the development of a show, but what I loved about this one was working out where the songs fitted within this world. For example, I knew I wanted to have a scene on Old MacDonald's Farm, but besides that song, what else would they sing on the farm?
Then, once I had decided on the songs, our composer Barrie Bignold worked on the musical arrangements to make them more theatrical. "Cock-A-Doodle-Do" is now a barn dance!
How have you incorporated multimedia into the production?
I wanted to give a nod to where Little Baby Bum came from, so our backdrop is an interactive animation screen. This means we see the animated backdrops that feature in the YouTube animations, but it moves and is very much alive. There are even doors within the screen for characters to pop out of.
How many songs have made it over?
There are 26 songs in the show! This includes the ten-minute parade in the finale.
Do you have a favourite song or moment in the show?
That changes day by day. I went into rehearsals with "Wise Old Owl" as my favourite, then on another day it was "Rain, Rain, Go Away" and on another it was "Yankee Doodle". I do have a soft spot for the "Colour Train Song" too.
What do you think children can get from the stage show, as opposed to the YouTube version?
Children are very much part of the show and the Little Baby Bum world. There is a lot of interaction. They get to know the characters and world a bit more. But, like the YouTube version, we want to see plenty of singing and dancing.
Have you made any tweaks in response to the young audiences?
Yes, absolutely. The children who've come to see the show really respond to the songs, so I wanted to make sure we got to the songs quicker. Whilst I have maintained the story in the show, I've cut and tweaked the dialogue so that the songs come thick and fast. It's what the audience want!
Which other children's theatre-makers or productions are inspiring you at the moment? And do you think the industry is gaining more respect for children's theatre?
I really love the inventiveness of Stick Man. It's imaginative, playful and brings the book to life in such a creative way. I am also a huge Disney fan, and anything from their West End shows to their theme park shows are always inspiring to me. They know how to communicate to children on a creative level.
I have never met anyone in the industry who doesn't respect children's theatre or what I do. They know how competitive it is and how challenging it is to create a show that appeals to children and parents. When we create something for children, we are all aware how important it is and the impact it can have on a child. The industry understands that.
Finally, why should people come see Little Baby Bum Live?
It's fun, lively and you'll be able to sing along to every song. With a cast of performers, costume characters and puppets, there is never a dull moment!
Little Baby Bum Live is now on tour - find dates and venues here
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks