Their exits and their entrances

Celebrating 20 years of Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse

By Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

Photo: Artistic director John Fleming addresses the audience during YSKP’s Paradise Paradox in 2005; photo: YSKP

Standing in an empty amphitheater has a curious effect on the body. You feel at once mighty and god-like as your voice booms through the cyclorama, around the back of your head and out into the seats in front of you, but also diminished and humbled as you lurk beneath the towering stands. As I stand with outgoing Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse artistic director John Fleming and incoming artistic director Ara Beal in the amphitheater on Antioch College’s grounds in Yellow Springs, I feel wobbly with solitude and connected to millennia of thespians. The three of us are here to discuss accounts on a more manageable scale, specifically the 20-year history of Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse (YSKP), the anniversary of which is being celebrated around the village in the upcoming weekends of September.

“I like to say, ‘We’re not children’s theater,’ because children’s theater is traditionally adults acting for kids,” Beal said. “We’re youth acting for audiences of all ages, including adults. I think that meshes very well with a lot of things Yellow Springs values. Yellow Springs does value our kids as meaningful members of the community.”

YSKP’s shows premiere in Antioch’s backlot in a renovated 500-seat amphitheater that was originally built in the early 1960s and home to a Shakespeare repertoire program run by Meredith Dallas and Arthur Lithgow. After the strike of 1973, the amphitheatre sat in disuse for 24 years before YSKP and their summer programs breathed life back into it.

“The college and Yellow Springs are intertwined in a fundamental way, so it seemed to have attracted some kinds of visionaries over the years,” Fleming said. “Yellow Springs seems to have attracted this kind of innovation and creative energy, so it makes sense they would embrace the theater that has that, too.”

“We’ve had 1,500 kids in shows,” Beal said. “That’s 750 to 800 families. Maybe more. A thousand families who we were part of their summer. Even if it was just one summer, it’s a very intense experience.”

Memories of the early days of YSKP are shared between Fleming and Beal, but they don’t always precisely line up. For instance, of an early show they had in a circus tent behind Young’s Jersey Dairy, Fleming remembered it being “fun” while Beal recalled it being “hot.” Having caught the theater bug early herself, Beal has been involved with YSKP from it’s very beginning, first doing tech and then going on to act and stage manage, with Fleming fostering and supporting her talent along the way.

Over the years, Fleming has received innumerable thank-you cards from YSKP alum that express gratitude for the theater skills they developed under his instruction, among these, articulation, collaboration and the ability to listen.

“Those are incredible life skills,” Fleming said.

“Theater does teach a unique set of skills,” Beal said. “You really can’t get them anywhere else. You have to piece together creativity and discipline and collaboration in a way you don’t do even on a soccer field or in a classroom.”

Within the evolving school system, within our ever-changing world, the outlet YSKP provides for kids’ creativity is essential to raising well-rounded members of society.

“I know some schools in Yellow Springs are embracing project-based learning,” Fleming said. “And that’s what we’ve been doing for 20 years, basically.”

“I still remember, I directed a show in 2008 for the company, and John came to speak to a couple of my leads at one point during rehearsal because they weren’t quite doing what they needed to do,” Beal recalled. “And he’s talking to them, and one of the kids says, ‘Well, I’m just a kid!’ to which John responds, ‘There are kids your age on Broadway doing eight shows a week, six days a week. That’s not an excuse.’ And I think that’s a real important way we work with kids. ‘I’m just a kid’ is never an excuse. We expect them to do what they’re 100 percent capable of doing.”

And what has Fleming learned in all these years working with youths?

“I’ve learned how to be flexible. My metaphor is, ‘It’s like holding a jellyfish,’” Fleming said as he mimed holding a fluid object that was constantly shifting and changing form, trying to keep it from hitting the ground.

YSKP has planned consecutive weekends of celebration to highlight their 20-year history for the community. A gallery show opening will take place on Sept. 19 where guests will see artifacts from past shows created by professional artists exclusively for YSKP. “Arts Alive! The Music of YSKP” will take place on Sept. 20, showcasing 20 years of original musical numbers produced by YSKP.

“We do original work, so we don’t do anything that’s been done before. The songs are all written for that show and premiered. So, I think one way we’re going to approach the musical evening is to pick songs we think have rich stories that go with them.”

There will also be special musical guests.

“A person we worked with for a long time, Tucky Bailey, a well-known local, saxophone player, jazz player, is coming back for our musical event,” Fleming said of the musician who is now located in California. “She has a fan base here, and that would be the only time to see her until who-knows-when.”

On Sept. 27, YSKP will illuminate the path their productions take from “Page to Stage.”

“It starts with an idea,” Fleming said.

And the realization of an idea is exactly what we are celebrating.

 

Celebrate 20 years of YSKP weekends in September at the Yellow Springs Arts Council Gallery, 111 Corry St. in Yellow Springs. Friday, Sept. 19, 6–9 p.m.: 20 Years of YSKP Gallery Show Opening. Saturday, Sept. 20, 6:30–9:30 p.m.; $5 cover: Arts Alive! The Music of YSKP. Saturday, Sept. 27, 2–3 p.m.: Page to Stage. For additional information and to see more upcoming YSKP events, please visit yskp.org.

 

Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin at JenniferHanauerLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com. To read more from Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin, visit her website at jennerlumpkin.com.

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