I am so pleased to share these thoughts from Kendra Jones. I met Kendra several years after Overshadowed began, and she instantly became a friend as well as a significant part of the company. She recently moved away, but her impact will stay with us for years to come!
Theater Through the Eyes of a Child
It was unlike anything I had ever seen or experienced. My mom had planned a special date for the two of us. I knew this had to be a special occasion since she had me get all gussied up in my favorite dress and my Sunday shoes.
It was a Saturday afternoon, and I remember the glass-paned lobby feeling bright and warm as the sun streamed in through the windows. There were lots of other children there with their moms and dads. We walked from the lobby into a room like I had never been in before – their seats sloped up and there was a stage in the middle of the floor. My mom was taking me to my very first play.
At the time I probably didn’t fully grasp what a play was, but I do know I was in awe of every moment. From the time the play began, I was caught up in the story. It was the tale of “Hansel and Gretel.” I clearly recall the Father character with his rugged, lumberjack look, complete with full beard, plaid shirt, and suspenders. Hansel and Gretel were children! Just. Like. Me! Their journey through the magic forest to the witch’s house made of candy had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. When Hansel and Gretel and their Father were reunited at the end, their loving family embrace in the middle of the pink and purple illuminated stage is permanently etched in my mind. It was a true “happily ever after” moment! This experience created a life-long passion for theater in me.
Fast forward to 2009, when Reba and I had discussions about beginning our Kids and Family Series for Overshadowed. While all of Overshadowed’s shows are family-friendly, we felt it was critical to begin offering shows that would be targeted for a younger audience. Why? Because the earlier a child is exposed to the arts, the more likely they are to appreciate and engage in the arts as they grow. And the show I selected to begin our family series with was none other than my first foray into the theater…”Hansel and Gretel.”
Since that time, we have produced eleven shows in our Kids and Family Series. Each time, each show has become more precious than the last. We realize that the time and money you invest for your children is of great value to you, and we have strived to create more than just a production, but a true experience.
Watching this program develop, I have made the following observations about kids and the theater:
1. They want to become part of the story. As much as possible, we try to find moments within each show to engage the audience and allow it to become interactive. Admittedly the times I have enjoyed the most have been when it has happened organically. During a performance of “Hansel and Gretel,” as the witch was stealing the pebbles the children used to mark the path to return to home, a little boy loudly exclaimed, “Oh, no, no! NO! You bad witch! I’m gonna get you!” Good thing we were headed to intermission after that because everyone (audience, crew, and cast alike) erupted into uncontrollable laughter for the next several minutes!
2. They want the special occasion experience. We have seen grandparents come with the grandkids; Daddy/daughter dates; Mom and kids days out; group events with extended family and friends. More often than not, just like I was as a child, they are all dressed up in their finest. One time a father came with his daughter…he in a tuxedo, she in her prettiest dress. Not going to lie…that one made me tear up a bit.
3. They want the story to continue. After every performance the cast lines the hallway, still in costume, to greet the audience and take pictures. Quite frequently I have overheard children “expanding” the story as they engage with our cast members about what they would have done in a character’s situation, or how it should continue to play out.
4. They want to overcome their fears. Most every story has some kind of villainous character. It is in the nature of literature itself. We are always very cautious with our approach to the villains with a gentle hand, because we don’t want to create a fearful situation. But at the end of the day, a villain is still a villain. I always feel a little badly for our “villains” during the greeting time, as they are often left standing there with no children to greet them. After all, who do you want a big, warm hug from after visiting Narnia…the White Witch, or Aslan the Great Lion? After a production of “Alice in Wonderland,” I observed one of the most beautiful interactions. The White Queen (portrayed by Traci Cidlik) noticed a little girl watching her. Traci had figured the girl wanted to approach her, but being a villainous character, the girl was a little afraid. Traci knelt down on the floor and started talking to her. Slowly the distance between the two of them grew shorter as the girl began taking baby steps toward Traci. And before you knew it. The child threw her arms around Traci’s neck and gave her a hug, and wanted to take a picture with her.
Young or old, novice or experienced theater-goer, I hope I will continue to enjoy every theatrical experience as through the eyes of a child.
Whatever you do today I hope it is magical!
What was the first play you ever saw? Do you have fond memories of it? I would love to hear about it!