This ain’t Orwell

Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse down on ‘The Farm’

By CC Hutten

Photo: Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse will present “The Farm” July 16-26 at the Antioch Area Ampitheater; photo: Tod Tyslan

The Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse, founded in 1995, is a summer theater experience for young people, under the mission to cultivate youth development in the arts world through the creation of original theater.

“A lot of people call us a children’s theatre,” says Ara G. Beal, managing artistic director.  “Which is generally thought of as adults acting for kids—it’s cutesy, etc. Our shows are sophisticated, thoughtful, mature … the kids come up with really amazing connections and ideas and understanding. People think they can’t understand complexities, but they have unique perspectives.”

The way teens want to engage with the complications of life is vastly different from their older or younger counterparts. According to Beal, Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse tries to allow youth that exploration in their own ways through theater.

In addition to hiring a record number of artists, Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse brings about $20,000 of grant money into the community.

“Yellow Springs is not the same as seeing something in NYC, but it’s still an important contribution,” Beal says. “We have a substantial economic impact. We hire the most artists in Yellow Springs, possibly the county. I have a great team that I trust to carry things forward.”

Beal started on the technical side of Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse in its beginnings in 1995 when she was a teenager. Since September 2014, she has fulfilled the full-time role as managing artist director. Each year, she is involved in some role of production; this year, she’s directing the summer production, “The Farm.”

In a nutshell: Parker Farm finds itself without a farmer and is close to being sold to developers. It’s a complex struggle to decide between allowing the developers to buy and build on the land, and saving the farm. The conflict is between the developers—people presented as puppet/mask hybrids—and citizens of the town—various animals depicted by the young actors.

“Part of the inspiration was George Orwell’s novel ‘Animal Farm,’ because the major characters are animals that have agency. But it’s not quite as dystopic,” Beal says. The major influence of the story, however, is the 1999 Whitehall Farm auction controversy.

“Yellow springs had a large farm that belonged to a woman, and she died,” Beal explains. “The family tried to auction it off. With just six weeks, they were able to raise three million dollars. An investor bought the entire farm and handed it over to the land trust that preserved farm land, to keep it as green space. It’s a fantastic story of a community coming together and engaging in active peace-making. In terms of plot, that’s where the story comes from.”

The play raises complicated economic questions about job security and stimulating the economy, and balancing that with land preservation.

“The Farm” is written by Joan Sand and directed by Beal; the scenic art is by Curtis Goldstein and the costumes and puppets are designed by Ayn Wood; the 20 by 80 foot mural on the amphitheater wall, which functions as public art until the following summer production by Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse, is by local artist Pierre Nagley.

“Joan founded and ran the company that we are based on,” Beal says. She definitely understood our aesthetic. We worked together about overall structure and where we wanted it to go… Curtis is Columbus based artist who built a model of the town ‘Hilgerton’ [inspired by Yellow Springs]. He’s building a tractor and bulldozer in a standoff to represent the conflict [of the play].”

Wood has created about 25 steampunk-style animal headpieces, in addition to designing the costumes and puppets, which measure in at between 6 and 8 feet.

“Actors play animals, the puppets play people,” Beal says.

The cast is unusually young this year. However, though there are multiple working parts and driving forces behind the production, Beal says high school student Chloe Thompson stands out.

“She plays Uncle Jack, a male character, the brother of the farmer who’s died,” Beal says. “It’s her second year, but she has a lot of experience. She said she was up for the challenge with this character. It’s always interesting to have a teenage girl playing a male adult … we’ve been working together on the character’s emotional arc in the story.”

A new addition to the performances with Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse is Arts for All, a performance specifically adjusted to audiences on the autism spectrum. The performance features factors such as volume decrease and the presence of calming centers and special educators; it also includes a discussion of awareness and sensitivity with the cast and staff.

“We open up for discussion about how some populations are ostracized from live theatre,” Beal says.

It’s the first time Yellow Springs is offering a performance like this—and there’s nothing else like it in the Miami Valley.

“Yellow Springs really values education and art,” Beal says. “The fact that [Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse] is successful and thriving and is indicative that this community values both of those things. I’m thankful for it. The community as a whole is happy to have something represent that.”

The Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse will present “The Farm” at the Antioch Area Amphitheater July 16, 17, 18, 19 and July 23, 24, 25, 26, with a special Arts for All performance on July 24. All performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the door and are $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and students. For more information, please call 937.767.7800 or visit yskp.org.

 

Reach DCP freelance writer CC Hutten at CCHutten@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

 

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Reach DCP freelance writer CC Hutten at ContactUs@DaytonCityPaper.com

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