Pram People: Celebrating community and connection in public spaces

Over a Zoom meeting during lockdown, Associate Director of Polyglot Theatre Emily Tomlins had a thought: how can we bring parents raising small children together, to help them feel less alone? In her research with Polyglot Theatre, and when she was able to get back into the public, Emily discovered people who were involved in raising small children and babies needed community now more than ever: “This continues to be true,” says Tomlins. They found, for instance, that access for prams is limited on public transport, in shopping centres, and on footpaths, and they were often frowned upon for taking up space.

“Looking after a baby and raising a child is hard enough as it is without feeling like you aren’t welcome in public spaces. We wanted to turn this on its head,” says Tomlins.

The research’s findings led to the birth of Pram People, an immersive and interactive experience set in a public space, using about 60 colourfully decorated prams — including your pram if you’re a participant — and a headset serving as a sensory performance for babies and small children, and an aural experience for adults.

Pram People is a celebration of everyone who pushes a pram, and everyone who rides in one,” says Tomlins.

“It is a safe space for families to be with others, to listen to experiences that might be similar to their own, and to be immersed in joyful and relatable performance.

“We know it’s a challenge to move through the world with a small person in tow, so we have created a gentle experience for you both.”

The playful performance first premiered in 2022 at Melbourne Museum as part of Melbourne Fringe, and is set for its Perth debut in March at Mullaloo’s Tom Simpson Park – where you’ll have the chance to participate – as part of Joondalup Festival.

There is very little in the way of performance specifically made for babies and small children, Tomlins tells me, making Pram People a unique experience. “Particularly immersive work which allows them to be whoever they are in the moment: crying, feeding, asleep or wide-eyed,” she says.

“They deserve the same quality art as the rest of us. They are our cultural future and our very discerning current audience.”

The work – Pram People – also prompts questions about how important public spaces are for our communities, spaces that foster connection, are accessible for all, and, says Tomlins, “often the only space that can provide a free and stimulating outing for families with young children.”

“Public spaces, particularly the beautiful park we will be performing at in Mullaloo, provide opportunities for play, imagination, adventure, contact with the natural environment and much needed space and fresh air,” she says.

Overall, Pram People shows us the powerful nature of storytelling and of relating to one another, echoed by Tomlins: “Being able to hear other stories and to share a space with so many other parents, grandparents, carers and family members, and to be celebrated in that space, is very special.”

This article was originally published in February 2024 on PerthNow.