Of Kids and By Kids
Teaching dance and music for kids
As a teen and avid theater-goer growing up in Berkshire County, I remember looking forward to the return of the Williamstown Theatre Festival each summer because I had scored tickets to a performance starring Rob Lowe or because I just might catch a glimpse of Superman (aka Christopher Reeves) around town.
In my twenties, I recall hearing stories about a girl I knew and her stolen kisses with “Friends” actor David Schwimmer while he starred in The Glimmer Brothers at WTF. In my thirties, deep in the throes of young motherhood, WTF was off my radar as my theater palate catered to an under-ten audience. I assumed that actors such as Blythe Danner and Colleen Dewhurst most likely were not performing in the types of productions my kids would sit through. But my assumptions about WTF and kid-friendly theater were actually way off base.
“We’re always looking for ways to include families and a younger demographic in the festival,” says WTF producer Stephen Kaus. “You hear family theater and children’s theater and you think it’s placating and played down, but it’s so much more.”
Of course, WTF stages its share of the traditional family theater—kid-loving slapstick comedies and well-known family titles—yet the festival also presents thoughtful theater meant to initiate dialogue between parent and child. June Moon, described as both bitterly funny and deliciously literate, plays on the Main Stage, July 2 to 13, 2014. And PigPen Theatre Co.’s staging of The Old Man and the Old Moon (August 6 to 17) is an epic tale of an old man who must abandon his duties of filling up the moon with liquid light to search for his missing wife. “It’s an amazing theater company,” says Kaus, “and they tell this tale through all different crafts and ways of storytelling.”
Not only does WTF ensure that a number of family-minded productions grace its playbills each year, but it strives to make experiencing theater attainable for everyone, with Friday-night deals (buy one adult ticket, get two free tickets for kids ages 18 and under), free family-theater workshops, and free outdoor theater in July. “Theater can get expensive for families, and this is our way to alleviate that,” says Kaus. “Beside, making sure the next generation gets exposed to the arts as a form of entertainment is important.”
Berkshire Theatre Group in Stockbridge also has a number of theater opportunities for families—The Mystery of Irma Vep (through July 19), a campy, vampire romp for middle-school and high-school children; A Hatful of Rain (August 13 through 30), a raw and insightful telling of a Korean War veteran’s struggle with morphine addiction, aimed at raising social consciousness on issues regarding addiction and the cost of war for our veterans, recommended for teens; and a fall run and world premiere of Poe (October 2 through 26) that will bring the poems of Edgar Allan Poe to life on the Unicorn Theatre stage in Stockbridge—that come highly recommended by BTG CEO and artistic director Kate Maguire and promise to provide plenty of conversation starters for the ride home.
“We have a responsibility to the community at large, and I believe that those of us who have been successful in the arts share a responsibility to help younger people understand what the arts can do for them. Otherwise, we’re mitigating our own art form,” says Maguire. “We are not only grooming the next generation of actors. It has far more to do with helping these kids learn how to communicate, how to speak to people, and how to understand what is going on in the ‘other’ world.”
This summer, the young actors Maguire refers to are those in the company’s colorful, fun, and dynamic community production of Seussical (August 7 through17) at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield. One of those actors is 15-year-old Caroline Fairweather, who already boasts an extensive acting résumé and will star as the Sour Kangaroo.
“It’s a great way to develop people and speaking skills, it’s a lot of fun and another option for kids,” says Fairweather, who also plans to take advantage of what the Berkshires has to offer in family theater and see as many performances as possible—including Barrington Stage Company’s Hairspray Jr. (July 23 through August 10), with Broadway director and choreographer Christine O’Grady at the helm once again. “I actually think we have more family-friendly theater opportunities here than there are in New York. It’s also great to have those conversations that theater creates. Theater provides a wonderful way for families to communicate.”