Maybe we need to take a long, hard look at "Children's" Theatre these days!Truth to tell, mere children's theater is not always as "mere" as it used to be!
I should confess that for years --- decades even --- I approached most "Family" shows and "Children's Theatre" with suspicion, not so much because ofg performances, but because of theirt audience.
Such productions ae usually the end-product of a season of theater classes/schools/workshops that are open to all comers, often all ages. The aim is to acquaint young people with live theater --- its techniques, its joys, its heartbreaks --- so as to nurture enough familiarity and love to make experience of live plays and musicals a life-long possibility. How many people still getting out to see plays were first taken to one by a favorite aunt, or instructed by a careful director? Rather than searching for talent, the real aim of such shows is the building of a lifelong audience.
Most such productions have huge casts, and tend to include youngest and oldest performers at various stages of maturity and expertise. Sometimes it's hard to see them as anything but "recitals" designed to demonstrate what the kids learned this semester. This is because the audience --- what I refer to as "The Amateur Audience" --- is filled with doting parents, loving aunts, and younger siblings: i.e., people who rarely go out to see any Live theater except this sort. They are eager to forgive or overlook any imperfections out of sincere love for relatives or friends as much as out of simple theatrical unfamiliarity. And, need I add, younger siblings taking all entertainments as television see nothing wrong with loud conversations, hopefully about the show at hand.
I have approached "family" theater and "children's" shows very hesitantly in the past!
So it was surprising when a group calling itself "P.R.O.V.E. I.T. and working at the Performing Arts Connection in Sudbury, in only its second season rented the mainstage Mosesian space at the Arsenal Center for the Arts to perform the musical "Spring Awakening" for only two excellent performances.
It was, in every way, top to bottom, a thoroughly professional production. The cast was mostly high-school and here and there some college kids and an adult or three, but from the "stars" down to the least of the chorus members everyone came onstage prepared, dedicated, concentrated, and aware not only of the serious story but each individual's place in that story. It's on a list of mine for a possible Best Ensemble vote in next year's IRNE collection.
In most amateur theater, at any age, the muscle (or lack of it) is the creative team --- in this case Producer/Director Samantha Bower, Music Director John Bower, and Choreographer Carla Gerken. They matched performers' talents and expertise with their roles, and filled the stage with chorus more often than one might expect, but always logically and movingly.
And then, exactly one month later, came Boston Children's Theatre doing two week-ends on the big Wimberly Stage at the BCA.
This was almost the exact opposite: not a new company, but one celebrating 60 years of performances doing a totally new play --- "Reflections of A Rock Lobster"; but the quality was, again, exceptional. The plot of Burgess Clark's adaptation of a book by Aaron Fricke centered on a real case of gay-bashing bullying in 1980 when the hero brought a law-suit against his high-school demanding permission to take a Boy as his date to the senior prom. Instead of the repressed sexuality of pre-Freudian Germany, this play brought the audience into the halls of a realistic and often brutal high-school where teen-age emotions often boil over. The cast, again in every role, gave excellent, eloquent performances. No apologies needed for anyone.
In the glow of these two masterpieces, I feel both encouraged, and apprehensive. If "mere kids" can do such professional work in these shows, they can do it again, right?
Well, I remember that only last year that same Boston Children's Theatre produced, again on that same Wimberly Stage, about the most lackluster, boring, predictable production of "To Kill A Mockingbird" I have seen in some time. Maybe it was a different director, maybe "Rock Lobster" just asked more of the company, so they responded in kind.
But, for two different companies in two different theatres only a month apart, no one onstage needed "forgiveness" --- only well-deserved standing ovations.
I don't usually Review productions that have closed; the readers should have an opportunity to see the show and judge for themselves. But I thought this perhaps encouraging development of "kid's theatre" deserved some attention. ]