(Originally published in The A.V. Club Madison, by Andrew Winistorfer, March 10, 2011.)
Welcome to Cheap Seats, where every Thursday we’ll talk to folks behind the scenes of the stage events opening around town in order to give you a flavor of the productions that won’t be found in any of the promo materials.
Novel Ideas, Stoughton Opera House, March 11-13
Promo pull quote: “In Novel Ideas, comical and thought-provoking twists on well-known tales like Pride And Prejudice, Don Quixote, and the Sherlock Holmes stories will share the stage with entertaining looks at the media and storytelling.”
What it’s really about: Local youth theater company Actor’s Factory commissioned local playwrights to write a handful of plays centered on the theme of “stories,” and Novel Ideas is the result. It features re-contextualized versions of literary works delivered by child actors who have a hand in the production at every level. “I gave the playwrights this theme they could work around, and my main concern was giving them something that they could use to create something very entertaining,” Actor’s Factory director Deanna Reed says. “And we got four plays and two monologues. Over the summer, the writers workshop with the actors, and they make changes to make the work stronger. Hopefully it gets kids interested in reading the original works, and they see how they compare to the modern twists.”
Fun fact: The idea to solicit local playwrights for original children’s plays was borne out of Reed’s dislike of traditional children’s plays. “It’s very hard to find plays (appropriate) for kids that have characters and not caricatures. I would go through piles and piles of children’s plays, and not come up with anything,” Reed says. “What I was looking for were plays to teach the kids in the company how to approach a real character.” As such, Actor’s Factory has staged adult plays by the likes of David Mamet (the cleanest play in his oeuvre, The Water Engine). “Kids doing David Mamet, that’s like, ‘Whoa!,’” Reed says. “But the piece was well suited to kids doing it, and at the same time had marvelous characters. After that, we had a hard time finding material, so I contacted the playwrights I know around town, and commissioned plays for us.”
Why you should try it: Because it’s totally free, though a $5-minimum donation is encouraged. And you can watch kids succeed, because they’re our future. Or something. “Kids take direction so freely, and they try so hard to do what you’re asking of them. Psychologically, working with children actors is easier than working with adults. I hate to say it,” Reed says. “These young actors are giving such phenomenal performances, and you will absolutely forget that they are kids. And you are going to enjoy yourself.”