The cold winter months are a time for stories. Every family has a book, a memory or a favorite tale that comes out at the holidays; there’s something about the time of year that brings magic into these tales. And if you’re looking for a few new stories to share with your little ones, StageOne Family Theatre is at the ready with its Storytellers series.
The Storytellers series is a creative program dedicated to promoting a love of stories and books among young audiences. In each installment of the event, professional actors read beloved children’s books. Children and adults alike can come to listen, participate and enjoy these universal tales.
StageOne is a local theater company that has long sustained a commitment to educational and family theater. “For a long time, StageOne was known for its participation theater – interactive theater programs built for the very young,” explains Andrew Harris, StageOne’s associate artistic director. “The company went to smaller venues where children could be right in on the action. We want to continue to engage this young audience in a way that’s educationally sound and developmentally appropriate. It’s a combination of education and teaching.”
So what should potential audience members expect from the Storytellers series? “In its simplest form,” explains Harris, “it’s dramatic readings of children’s books.” Professional actors read stories aloud to an audience full of young children. “We want to introduce theater and education to young people, and we welcome that authentic engagement,” Harris adds.
StageOne’s commitment to education, literacy and storytelling comes through in all of these programs. “Audience members see that our storytellers have books in their hands – we want that to be obvious,” Harris notes. “You’re not coming to see a play that’s highly rehearsed with sets, costumes, props, all of that. We want to create strong literacy connections.” In fact, books are also scanned and projected behind the performers. “Kids who aren’t readers can look at the pictures; kids who are can read along,” Harris explains. Although a Storytellers show may feature a few props and costume pieces, the focus stays on the story itself, encouraging young audience members to use their imaginations.
The fun starts as soon as families enter Todd Hall, a rehearsal hall and performance space in The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. “We always have an activity at the entrance, like coloring – something that will be utilized during the performance,” Harris relates. The storytelling actors spend time meeting the kids and families, helping children feel comfortable in the space before the storytelling even begins.
When the stories start, the actors are sure to keep children engaged. “Overall, we usually do about three books in 45 minutes – so 15 minutes each,” Harris says. “There’s a break for some interactivity between actor and audience in between, which lets them refocus and is a great way to keep the very young really engaged.” But older siblings and parents love the structure too. “There’s quite a few older kids that come – fourth, fifth and sixth graders, older siblings, coming and enjoying it,” explains Harris. “And the parents have an excuse to play with their kids.”
His statements are corroborated by a lucky circumstance – Harris’ young son, Flynn, wanders in mid-interview. “Wait a second – Flynn just walked in the door,” Harris says, calling his son over. Of course, I want to know his opinion of the series. “I like it,” Flynn says seriously. “I just like the stories and the action and the audience interactivity.” I note that coming from a longstanding audience member, that’s an important endorsement. “He’s a fourth-grader now, so sometimes he tries to play it off,” Harris says with a laugh. “But he really loves it.”
The themes audiences can look forward to include a winter theme, a grab bag of Silly Stories and a few favorite classics. “My favorite story is always the next one coming up; they’re so much fun to do and to explore,” Harris says. “Some are funny; some have that sweet, touching message; some have strong interaction. We can mix all of those together in one storytelling session.”
So if you’re looking for a new tradition, a favorite family event or even just a few new stories for the family, the Storytellers series is a perfect fit. Actors read children’s stories in a way that engages the whole family, promoting literacy and strong relationships. “We bring books to life for kids, and adults get to tap into that sense of play that they sometimes forget they have,” Harris explains with a smile. “It’s just fun.” VT