On Stage

Of children and theatre

By Jacqui Theobald

Photo: Vandalia Youth Theatre”s high school actors rehearse for this season’s production of “Mary Poppins”; photo: Matt Silver

Some stories have an unexpected second chapter, impossible to foretell or even imagine. Last summer in the Dayton City Paper, I wrote about having taken 10 members of our family to New York over the years when each was 12 to see theatre, art and the big city.

I had asked each person to share a few outstanding memories and I was amazed at the different experiences that floated to the top. One surprise was our youngest son musing that he had been “so in love” with Andrea McCardle, also 12, who starred in “Annie,” but he knew she wasn’t aware of his adoration.

When that same Andrea, now quite grown, appeared recently in Springfield in “4 Girls 4” a quartet whose prime might have been a few years ago, we were undecided: should we go, would the magic still be there?

We did go.

The “four girls” have beautiful true voices and know how to sell a song and captivate an audience. I had sent McCardle an email with a little of our back-story and the quote from the paper, so we wondered if there would be a chance to meet her after the show. We didn’t exactly fantasize, but couldn’t help, well, imagining.

Chapter two: we got to talk to her and she thought the memory from so many years ago was “delightful.” Graciously, she signed his original “Annie” playbill, posed for a picture and certainly did acknowledge her longtime fan.

As for the boy, now a man, that long-ago thrill of having heard a peer singing on Broadway is a sound-image still alive and now recaptured. Perhaps it’s the basis of a lifelong astute appreciation of theatre and music, creativity and talent. The recent evening was a wonderfully warm reinforcement of that fondly held memory.

You never know what childhood experiences will have unexpected impact—another reason we are lucky to have good local children’s theatre opportunities.

Town Hall Theatre breaks the fourth wall

In 2015, second-generation children are often brought to Town Hall Theatre by parents who remember how they loved the very same experience as children. Washington Township’s 100-year-old building houses a theater with a fine history of its own, going back more than 50 years. Several of Dayton’s nationally famous theatre folks, including author John Jakes and actor Gordon Jump were involved there; each directed in the 1950s.

Today the focus is on “Theatre For Young Audiences” according to current Managing Artistic Director Mark Metzger. “We do shows about children and for children, as well as with children,” he says.

“Don’t shush your children,” he tells parents. “We want them to really enjoy seeing each show and if they talk or squirm or ask questions, reacting to onstage action, that’s exactly what we love to hear.”

Specially selected to be appropriate for shorter attention spans, some original scripts are presented, cast with both child and adult actors. Other plays are junior adaptations of well-known stage works or fairy tales.

Metzger explains they are very aware of sensory issues and are researching more ways to accommodate autistic children and developmentally delayed adults. For “Charlotte’s Web,” they’ll leave the house lights partially on, and show or explain loud sounds and other surprises as well as answer questions. “We break that fourth wall between stage and audience,” Metzger says.

With the mix of adult and young actors, there are role models available for onstage learners and a sense of truth, as adult characters are played by adults, and kids by kids. There is a modest fee for cast members.

The upcoming Town Hall Season includes: “Beauty and the Beast,” August 7-9; “Junie B. Jones, the Musical,” September 28-October 4; “Bunnicula, a Rabbit Tale,” October 23-November 1; “Rapunzel,” November 13-15; “Fairytale Christmas Carol,” December 4-20; “Charlotte’s Web,” January 22-February 4; “Cinderella,” March 4-20; “Princess Savitri and Other Folktales from India,” March 25-27; “Wizard of Oz,” May 6-22; and “Thumbelina,” June 3-5.

Vandalia Youth Theatre’s mission to include

Every single child who auditions for a Vandalia Youth Theatre production is cast. It’s a summer program with three divisions based on age, presenting three different shows. On July 10, it’s “Aristocats” for grades K-3; “Shrek,” grades 4-8, hits the stage on July 17; and “Mary Poppins,” the high school show, starts on July 24.

As a nonprofit organization, they use various stages: the summer shows at Northridge High School; a Holiday Review, December 11-13 at Dayton Playhouse, Wegerzyn Garden.

Board President Tim Bement and board member Denise Eder note proudly, “We have students from 30 school districts in the area, over 200 students. The casts are large, 65 to 70 participants.”

Artistic and Senior Director is Michael Wadham; Junior Director is Ashley Leasure and PeeWee Director is Allison Eder, herself an alum.

The scripts include many ensemble groups, and mentoring and a buddy system between the casts are encouraged. Lessons of cooperation, friendship and responsibility occur along with instruction in artistic and applied lessons on all things theatrical, for reasonable fees. Many find that intangible, magic love of theatre that calls them back year after year. It may send them forth to other stages or other audiences, forever.

Dayton is as rich in opportunities for children’s theatre and camps as it is in community theatre organizations year round. Check your favorite for specific youth information.

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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