The new year often prompts thoughts of new beginnings, perhaps leading to a resolution or two. As I thought about my first column of 2010, it occurred to me that such beginnings could be focused on introducing young people to the theater for the first time.
Adults who help children experience the arts have a particularly powerful influence on future appreciation. With the beginning of the year, I’d like to suggest several ways to share theater with a child that might establish a lifelong love for this vibrant art form.
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park is our area’s most sophisticated and established professional theater, currently marking its 50th anniversary. But the Playhouse offers more than shows for grown-ups at its Eden Park facility’s two stages. In fact, its outreach program connects with as many as 60,000 kids throughout our area.
The Next Generation Theatre Series, the Playhouse’s Touring Company, takes productions for young audiences to area schools and offers public performances at community centers across the Tristate. The program is overseen by veteran director Mark Lutwak, previously artistic director at Honolulu Theatre for Youth.
The touring works are performed by young professional actors from the theater’s Bruce E. Coyle Intern Company.
Last fall Dennis Foon’s New Kid was presented at 13 venues during October and November, focusing on kids in grades 3-7. The script is about a boy who moves to a new country with a different language and who struggles to make friends and fit in. (The boy and his mother speak English, while others — including a bully — use a comic invented language.) The play was an impetus to talk about bullying and prejudice, demonstrating how theater can foster better communication and more profound understanding.
Two more shows will be toured by Lutwak and his crew: a reduction of Edmond Rostand’s romantic drama, Cyrano de Bergerac, for older students (grades 6-12), offered Jan. 16-Feb. 14; then The Garden of Rikki Tikki Tavi, adapted by Y York from one of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, will find its way to younger audiences (grades K-3), touring March 27-April 25.
Rikki Tikki Tavi debuts as culmination of the Rosenthal Next Generation Theatre Series on March 27. The series is another way the Playhouse seeks to ignite kids’ interest in theater. Presented on Saturday mornings in February and March in the Playhouse’s lobby plaza space, each show is 30-60 minutes long and offered at 10:30 a.m. (Tickets are just $5 for kids 4-18.) Most of the eight programs feature professional actors and storytellers who are veterans with young audiences.
This year’s works include some titles that sound like fun regardless of your age, including The Mouse that Barked (Feb. 6) and The Stinky Cheese Man (Mar. 13), adapted from Jon Scieszka’s popular children’s books and using puppets to tell the story. You can find a complete list of shows at www.cincyplay.com.
Another good option to give kids a taste of theater is Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati, whose next production at the Taft is Jack and the Beanstalk (Feb. 26-March 6). This group has been charming kids with productions since 1924. Info: www.thechildrenstheatre.com Regardless of where you go, taking a youngster to the theater is something you’ll be glad you did. Might even be worth a New Year’s resolution.
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