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From Page to Stage: Creating Memorable, Challenging, Children's Theatre...

During the first weekend in May, 4th Avenue Arts presented "Fables" original play written and directed by Josiah Knight with inspiration and input given by our theatre students. Here's some thoughts from the director and details about the process, as well as some behind the seen pics!

From 4th Avenue Arts Artistic Director, Jessica Lynn Fox:

"How did you produce/write/direct this production? What are your thoughts about children's theatre?" ​​​​​​​


Not a Fan:

Anyone who has ever made the mistake of talking to me about theatre has probably left scratching their heads. Yes, I was a theatre major. No, I don't care for musicals. Shakespeare is...okay. And I really am not a fan of children's theatre. That's not to say that I don't enjoy children, working with them, or seeing them on stage. It's quite the opposite. It's the material available for children's theatre that rubs me the wrong way. Take a look at any website offering scripts for children's theatre and you'll be bombarded with bad writing, corny jokes, uninteresting characters, and plays that are quite frankly, boring. If the script is boring, the actors are going to be bored week after week at rehearsals, and ultimately, you're going to have a pretty "meh" show on your hands. So I asked myself, how can I create a show that keeps the actors engaged, challenged, and invested and that ends up being an audience pleaser? The answer that has ended up working for me is to just remove the notion of "children's theatre" and create a show as if working with professional, adult actors. Specifically, I employed the ensemble derived playwriting method.


Ensemble Derived Theatre:

Ensemble derived theatre is a relatively new form of theatre being explored in contemporary American theatre. Rather than auditioning for specific roles, actors are brought together to see how they work as a group, and how they respond to physical improv exercises. Then, scenes are created and scripted based on those initial reactions, so in many ways, the actor's have just as large a hand in creating the script as a playwright would in an traditional production. Because of that, this type of theatre is more concerned with showcasing the experiences and moments of connection shared by the actors than forcing a perspective created by the playwright. So, while the actors are portraying characters, they are in a sense playing themselves. This ownership of role allows actors to explore the possibilities of their own voice and sense of humor, which in turn helps to bolster confidence, risk taking, and allows them to take pride in themselves and their work. Most importantly, this makes the entire process fun!


Survey Says:

Settled on the format of an ensemble derived show, I now needed to figure out what theme the show would explore. In a typical production, you follow a cast of characters on a journey from point A to point B. That is very much not the case with ensemble theatre, which uses series of monologues and scenes to dive into a thematic idea rather than a concrete plot line. Instead of forcing my ideas onto my actors, I decided to make them a part of the process. Normally, in a professional level production of ensemble theatre, the theme is discovered as the actors work and improv together. However, I needed something a bit more realized, and so I created a survey to discover the interests of the students. Through the survey I was able to learn what sorts of stories they were interested in telling, what types of characters they'd like to play, as well as what types of characters might be a big challenge for them. When I got the responses back, the two most popular genres were fantasy and comedy, a surprising combination. Along with that, students were interested in playing characters such as witches, knights, and individuals facing or overcoming a struggle. I thought of Greek theatre almost immediately, with its offerings of supernatural myths, heart wrenching family dramas, and over the top comedy. I was also very excited at the prospect of combining something as ancient as Greek theatre along with a modern production method.


One of the things 4th Avenue Arts promotes is the process...while the "product" in performing arts is something to celebrate, applaud, and strive for, it is meaningless without a solid foundation. As an institution, we strive to have a faculty full of diverse and talented artists who will use their skills in various ways to work and speak with the 4th Avenue Arts students in new and exciting ways each season. Josiah Knight has always invested deeply in the creative process of theatre and his approach to working with children. Congrats cast and crew on an AMAZING process to product production!

Join Josiah this Summer Session at 4th Avenue Arts for an AMAZING Performing Arts Camp! The week long, day camp will be June 11th - 15th from 9am - 2pm. Students will learn about the actors tool kit, get in touch with their voices and bodies by trying out lots of different acting methods and learn some new songs! Each day will focus on a differnet play, including some Hamilton, The Lion King, Aladdin, and more! Reserve a spot in this (and many others like it!) online today!

We look forward to getting creative with you in the future.


4th Avenue Arts

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