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Nurturing children’s interest in theater at UNCG

by Lenise Willis

 lenise@yesweekly.com

Amidst this new age of special effects and 3D movies, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep the art of live theater breathing, especially among the younger generation, which is why part of the mission of UNCG’s Theatre for Young People is to promote children’s theater and nurture their interest at an early age.

One such example is its upcoming family-friendly duo-production, which includes two one-act performances: The Giver, directed by UNCG master’s student Katie Campbell, and If Only the Lonely Were Home, directed by UNCG master’s student Alexandria Scamehorn.

“Creating good theater for young people is vital to introducing children to the arts and to help them learn and grow as people,” Scamehorn says. “Plus, these child audiences today are the adult audiences of tomorrow. If we turn them off to theater now by producing lackluster ‘kiddie’ shows, the state of theater in general will be in bad shape in the future.”

“For me, theater as an art form is indiscriminate of age,” Campbell adds. “Stories that illuminate the human condition involve people at all stages of life. Children and young adults deserve to see their unique struggles and triumphs just as much as adults when going to the theater.”

The Giver, based on the Newbery Award-winning novel by Lois Lowry, is aimed for an audience of ages 10 and up, and is set in a futuristic, seemingly Utopian community where everyone is safe, free of pain, and assigned a special role in the community. There is no privacy as the elders watch the family units through cameras.

“This inspired the projection of two live-camera feeds in which all the shots are constructed in real-time on stage,” Campbell says.

The lead character is 12-year-old Jonas, who is appointed the Receiver of Memory and learns from the Giver the truth about life in his community, and who soon discovers what it means to grow up and take destiny into his own hands.

“There are very few plays with a protagonist of this age and I feel that it is important for young adults to see themselves and their issues explored on stage,” Campbell says. “It also might spark for them a love of the theater or inspire the next generation of theater artists.”

Campbell comments that the play is also a great discussion starter for families, opening the lines of communication between parents, children and siblings on the value of freedom and safety, and our perception of identity and what makes people human.

Targeting a younger audience of pre-K and up is If Only the Lonely Were Home.

“It is a story about being lost and found, of celebrating the good things in life, and about opening yourself up to experience love and friendship,” says director Scamehorn.

The play highlights a boy named “the Lonely” who has shut himself away in his house and fears that no one knows he exists because his parents are always away and don’t pay attention to him when they are home.

The whole town, led by a precocious girl named Penny, gathers together its greatest loves and leaves them at the Lonely’s door to get him to come outside. The townsmen bring to the pile “the sound of tasting good tea,” “lightning in a jar” and “the feeling of warm rain on a sunny day.”

“I think that this play will ignite the imaginations of children in a really exciting way,” Scamehorn adds. “The actors in the play often use objects in ways other than what they may typically be used for to help tell the story.”

Scamehorn adds that Theatre for Young Audiences is part of a rapidly growing field, in which professional theaters craft productions performed by adults instead of children, but still with a younger audience in mind.

“In my work of directing theater for young audiences, I strive to create productions that do not water down production value or content just because the viewers are younger,” Scamehorn adds. “They deserve professional quality theater that engages and asks questions just as much as adult audiences do.”

WANNA go?

The Giver performs in tandem with If Only the Lonely Were Home at 7:30 p.m. March 21, 8 p.m. March 22, 23, and 2 p.m. March 24 in the on-campus Brown Building Theatre, 402 Tate St.. On March 23 there is also a solo performances of The Giver at 2 p.m. and a solo of If Only the Lonely Were Home at 10 a.m. Tickets are $5. Call 334-4849 or purchase online at http://euc.uncg.edu/box-office/

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