YS Kids Playhouse looks skyward with Luminous Luna: Myth and Imagination

(l-r) Miles, Yanne, and Kian in YS Kids Playhouse’s original musical Luminous Luna, running through July 2; photo: Matthew Collins

By Tim Smith

We gaze at it, write songs about it, blame it for erratic behavior, and occasionally howl at it. And we have to come home to it every night.

The Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse (YSKP) will explore this fascination with all things lunar in an original musical production, Luminous Luna: Myth and Imagination. According to director Ara Beal, this project held a special interest for her.

“I’ve always enjoyed world myths about the moon and sun, so the idea for this show was to create a musical drawing from primarily non-Western myths about the moon,” Beal says. “During the process of writing the piece, Luke Dennis, the playwright, folded in scientists, creating a piece that explores all the different ways humans have been fascinated with the moon.”

The show includes a cast of roughly 40 kids, ages 5-13, who play gods, animals, astronauts, and a variety of other characters. The musical has over 17 original songs, written by local musician James Johnston, which vary from a Mozart recitative to a James Brown-inspired funk piece.

“It’s really an ensemble-based show,” Beal says. “Most of the performers are cast as a featured character in one myth, like a god, but then appear in other myths as a narrator. The idea is to really look at how we work together to tell stories, whether we are on stage or sitting around a campfire or a lunchroom.”

The playhouse began operating in 1995 as a summer youth theatre. Since 1997, they have annually commissioned an original musical from regionally and nationally known playwrights. Their focus is on creating original works while exposing young people to the theatre experience. Since its inception, over 2,000 youths have participated in their productions, and some have become professionals in the performing arts. Luminous Luna is the Playhouse’s 23rd summer musical.

“Over the years, YSKP has interfaced youth with artistic mentors, especially in the fields of media, music, and visual arts,” Beal says. “In 2003, we expanded our mission to include media artists. In 2004, we began a youth leadership program, DaBigs, enlisting older youth to mentor younger youth. We also rededicated our artistic goals to include creating theatre that addresses issues of identity, conflict resolution, and reconciliation for youth. I like to say that our unofficial mission is to help kids develop into employees you will want to hire. They learn to show up on time, prepared to work. They learn to problem-solve and work with others, as well as be in front of an audience. They learn to rise to the challenge.”

The young people involved in a YSKP production get the full theatre treatment, starting with the auditions.

“Our auditions take place as a group workshop and include a warm-up, exercises, and theatre games,” Beal says. “Participants are given a chance to sing a song and share a story. Every kid who participates is given a role—one of the benefits of creating new theatre! Besides that, casting is not that much different than other casting projects. Who will work well together? What challenges will help young performers continue to develop their skills? Who do you know will show up ready to work every day, and who are you not so sure about? Most people don’t realize how challenging casting is—they think you give the biggest parts to the ‘best’ performers, but different people have different sets of skills.”

The playhouse productions have received positive recognition and support from the Yellow Springs community. Audience members seem to be amazed that a kid’s theatre production can be done so professionally.

“Someone once said to me, ‘Most children’s theatres have adults acting for kids, but you guys reverse that, because you have kids on stage creating theatre for adult audiences,’” Beal says. “That’s one of the side effects of dealing with big ideas—there’s a lot of layers, making the shows enjoyable for all kinds of audiences. During a run of eight shows, barring none lost to rain, we average about 100 attendees per performance.”

Although the shows have been well received, Beal admits that they occasionally get negative feedback, much like professional theatre productions.

“Not surprisingly, we get some pushback on the bigger issues we deal with on stage,” Beal says. “An audience member chided us to ‘leave the politics out of a child’s play’ last year. But one of the things you learn as an artist is to see the compliment in the criticism. That audience member was obviously expecting a candy-coated, cute musical, and that’s not what we do or who we are.”

In addition to their regular performance schedule, the Luminous Luna company has something special planned for a special audience.

“We’re really excited about our Arts for All performance, that we’ll do for the third time this year,” Beal says. “On June 30, audiences can join us for a special performance adapted for those on the autism spectrum. We remove startling sounds, add a narrator, and make other adjustments to what happens on the stage. We also have special educators on hand to assist, hand out fidget toys to our audience, and provide a calming center. It’s great for anyone who has someone in their family who might have a hard time sitting through a more traditional experience.”

Luminous Luna: Myth and Imagination takes the stage June 22–25 and June 29–July 2 at Antioch Amphitheater, 910 Corry St. in Yellow Springs. Tickets are $5 – $9.50. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. For tickets or more information, please call 937.767.7800 or visit visit YSKP.org.


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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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