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Justine Clarke: On being recognised and connecting with kids

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Are you ready to go? Are you ready to start…the show? Fans of Australian entertainer Justine Clarke will know lines like this by heart, and now the beloved star is giving fans the chance to see her live in action at her Silly Songs Tour. We caught up with Justine ahead of her performance to find out all about the secret to connecting with kids.

You’ve appeared on everything from House Husbands and Love My Way, through to Play School and your own show, The Justine Clarke Show! Are you constantly recognised by people of all ages?

I do get recognised all the time at the supermarket and in the street and its really lovely because it just means that A) everybody has that deep appreciation and love for Play School! And B) Hopefully, if they’ve listened to my music, I feel like I’ve done my job. It’s a good thing!

Justine is a well-known and beloved Play School presenter

Do you find kids to be the most brutally honest critics? I know we do, as parents!

I’ve had some pretty great hecklers at my live shows! And it always works out that they’ll say something really hilarious just when nobody else is talking. They’re sort of part of the show in that way. They’re just so funny and just so honest.

I did have one show where I sang this song called Climbing up the Rainbow from my Great Big World album, and I was in this beautiful ballroom in Ivanhoe in Melbourne. It had all these stairs leading up to the stage, and as soon as I started singing Climbing Up the Rainbow the kids all started climbing up the stairs on to the stage. And once one or two of them did it, then ten, twenty followed, until the whole crowd had climbed up the steps and were there at my feet. That’s the power of lyrics. You say you’re climbing up the rainbow and there they are with you! They do take things quite literally.

Well, parents have a lot to thank you for when it comes to being tidy, thanks to the actions (like ‘run the vacum’ and ‘sweep the floor’) in Everywhere’s a Dance Floor!

I taught kids around Australia to clean! It’s so funny when I do it at the concert and I get them all cleaning I’m like “This is great. I’m teaching the children of Australia to clean from an early age!”

Do your own kids (teens Josef and Nina, younger son Max) adore your music, or are you just ‘mum’ to them?

My older two love all of the songs; My youngest is 9 and he always tells me to stop singing and embarrassing myself. But I think he quite likes that, I think he thinks that’s quite funny!

Justine performing her Pyjama Jam show at Monkey Baa in Sydney

Your shows in Sydney are at an iconic venue, the Sydney Opera House! Do you make any rockstar demands  backstage?

Just sandwiches and fruit. And English Breakfast tea!

What can we expect from the Silly Songs Tour shows?

I will sing the hits from the old albums, which means I’m definitely singing Watermelon, I Like to Sing, and one of my favourites, Doing It. I also love singing Dancing Face – I’m in the best seat in the house for that song because I get to see everyone’s dancing face and there’s such concentration and it’s lovely.

Then there will be songs from the new album. Kids are really open to learning something on the spot. They love call-and-response and I really want to make sure they hear themselves singing as much as possible.

And what about parents? Are there elements the grown-ups will enjoy too?

I want to hear the parents sing as well! Because we model off our parents behavior in everything, so if you are singing and dancing around the house, your kids are going to do it too. But I know that most people come to a show at 10 o’clock to have an hour where they can sit in a chair and not move for an hour because they’re so tired…I remember it so well! I’d take the children along to something and I would have already been up for five hours and feel like, “I’ve done my job and now I will just watch you!”

Another good thing about the gig, for parents, is the musicians; these are musicians that play with some of the best artists in the country. When people become parents, often their nightlife ends and they don’t see live music for years after they have kids. I hope that people appreciate that and enjoy it.

Justine entertaining a crowd of adoring fans

What’s the secret to connecting with kids the way you do?

I think the main things is don’t stop and wait, just keep talking. And keep everything connected to something they can actually do, physically, whether it’s singing or dancing. That’s really helpful because they naturally want to move all the time, take advantage of that, that’s what I do. It is really tiring; even when doing Play School, when you don’t have children in the room. It’s takes energy, it takes focus, and that actually comes from the kids. Because kids have an enormous capacity in terms of concentration spans if they’re playing. You start a game with them and you’ll be the one wanting to finish it if it’s imaginative play or a song; you’ll get bored of it before they do.

How important in music and play for kids in terms of creativity and development?

I do believe that music has so many uses, and aids in so many things; like language comprehension, memory, coordination It spreads across so many developmental milestones for kids. And it’s so important for them to hear Australian voices. I think preschoolers in part really respond to seeing faces and real people, I think they feel that connection, and that’s why they look so amazed when they see you outside of the television set  because when you’re talking to them they really believe that you are actually speaking to them. That connection is real for them and I don’t think they get it enough on Australian television. I feel like yes it’s entertainment and I would never think that my job is anything greater than that; but it can be a tool.

Justine on the set of her ABC series, The Justine Clarke Show!


What message do you want kids to take away from the shows?

All I have ever really wanted was for kids to feel like they’re part of the show and to use their voices and bodies as much as possible and to have a really early confidence and ownership of singing so they have a lifelong appreciation for it. It doesn’t mean they have to be musician, but they have a physical experience of enjoyment in their bodies from a really early age. So they don’t get to that point where they feel inhibited or embarrassed or ashamed by someone telling them that they can’t so it, or they’re not as good. In Australia we love our music but I don’t think there’s enough music in schools, and I also think we’re a little like, “if you’re singing or you’re performing you’re showing off”. I think there is still a little bit of that culture. And that’s what’s so beautiful about this age, is that they just don’t have any of that, they don’t have any inhibitions. And I hope somewhere in their memory they keep that feeling.

Silly Songs Tour heads to theatres for reserved seating, 10am shows starting at the Sydney Opera House on September 22 then onto Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and finishing up in Adelaide on October 13.

For complete tour and ticketing, and more details, click here.

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