March 13, 2012

Discover the World Through Community Theatre

True, traveling is usually our thing, but I recently discovered that much of the same spirit of adventure - exploring the world, discovering new places, learning about different characters - comes into play (pun intended) at the community theatre - although on a different scale. As Nathan and Seamus embrace their new roles in Alice in Wonderland, I am amazed by the lessons they are taking home from the theatre - public speaking, problem solving, thinking quickly on their feet, adapting, community service and more!

“Hold onto wonder while you can”…the first line of Gerry Cullity’s opening song “Wonderland” in Desert Stages Theatre’s production of Alice in Wonderland pretty much sums up the theater’s philosophy. Kids off all ages marvel at the imaginary world created in each production at Desert Stages and that’s before they ever reach the stage. Executive Director Laurie Cullity (aka Miss Laurie) offers an atmosphere of fabulously controlled chaos in which kids revel. It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory meets Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and yet amazingly she produces an incredible show when it’s all done.


In Gerry Cullity’s Alice in Wonderland, Nathan and Seamus, from the television show Travel With Kids, join a cast packed with the quirky, colorful characters that fill the pages of Lewis Carroll’s book…plus some. Miss Laurie says “it’s like a clown stage…we pack in as many kids as possible” wanting them each to have the chance to imagine, create and perform. In this production, characters range from an innocent Alice (“Alice hands!” Miss Laurie cries) to darling pearls fluffed in layers and layers of tulle to a bubble-spewing caterpillar. Nathan plays a Battling Squire while Seamus is the Queen of Hearts’ Guard. Each lead part is quadruple cast to give each child a chance to be in the spotlight to build confidence and presence before a crowd.


You can sense the excitement as opening night draws near. I hear one Pearl squeal “There’s a real audience out there…with REAL people!” The busy backstage buzzes as kids don colorful costumes and make-up, sing from their very souls, and put on a performance that could match the very best of community theatre. You can feel their stomachs turn with delight as they line-up at the dressing room doors, after a break-a-leg chat from Miss Laurie, and ready themselves to enter the wonderful world of acting.

While there are plenty of chances for kids to be in the spotlight, it goes beyond that at Desert Stages. “It is amazing to see children turn from this inward focus to an outward sense of community.” states a quote from Gerry Cullity displayed in the lobby. During each play, kids are expected to join the community to clean up the theatre, re-paint every wall and floor, re-organize countless costumes and props, and clean every nook and cranny. It gives children a sense of responsibility. They take ownership of the theatre; this is THEIR place. As well they should, not only are all the plays in the junior line-up performed by children, they also run the tech booth – lights and sound effects, and assist in directing and choreography.


With so many children participating, it’s a wonder how Laurie Cullity keeps track of them all, let alone directs them. But direct she does. Miss Laurie maintains absolute control and still takes time out to console a crying Knave of Hearts or applaud a Flower’s perfect bun. One moment she’s talking paint with a teenager and the next she’s assisting Nathan with choreography for his battle scene.

Gerry Cullity’s original songs also give the kids a chance to express themselves with catchy tunes in various genres. From a blues singing Cheshire Cat to a hip-hop version of “Walrus and the Carpenter”, the array of songs matches Carroll’s fantastical and imaginative vision of Wonderland. The whole audience, no matter their age, will be tapping their feet to the beat. Nathan and Seamus can’t seem to stop singing them, even recording them and texting to friends. In fact, Cullity’s songs are so memorable that the songs from last spring’s “Peter Pan”, in which the boys played pirates, still top their playlists.

The intimate theatre-in-the-round at Desert Stages means every seat is a good seat making it a perfect place for kids to experience their first…or fifty-first show. The fantasy of Alice in Wonderland runs now through March 25 and will surely have you grinning from ear to ear like the Cheshire Cat. More information or tickets at www.desertstages.org

5 comments:

jabroon piece said...

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It is awesome to see kids turn from this inward concentrate to an external communal feeling.

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