Whether it is through acting, puppetry or another artistic platform, a number of production companies throughout Seattle hope to educate kids and foster a new generation of artists and arts audiences.
“I think, generally, the arts help us to become well-rounded people, and that’s what we want for our kids,” said Elizabeth Griffin, communications manager at Taproot Theatre (204 N. 85th St.). “I think theater exposes us to different viewpoints in life.”
For about 30 years, Taproot has presented a live, anti-bullying program to schools throughout Washington state. Every year, the program visits about 300 schools.
“Kids are very impacted by it,” Griffin said.
Several schools have also attended Taproot Theatre’s current production, Mark St. Germain’s “Best of Enemies,” she noted. The production, most appropriate for ages 14 and older, is set in 1971 in Durham, N.C., when schools were racially segregated. It tells the story of a Ku Klux Klan member and a civil rights activist who were forced to work together to solve the problem of segregation.
“It really hits home with people,” Griffin said.
The 90-minute play is based on the true story and book by Osha Gray Davidson and runs through Tuesday, April 25.
The Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT, 201 Thomas St.) productions encourage young audiences to be creative and to develop a habit of wanting to see theater their whole lives, said Linda Hartzell, artistic director since November 1984. SCT also has a drama school for youths.
“Arts should be part of our everyday lives,” she said.
She added that stories engage kids intellectually, emotionally, and physically. “I think stories are really important. Not only is it fun, but it’s necessary in the education of a child,” Hartzell said.
Live theater offers an immediate communal experience that video games and cell phones can’t match, she noted: “There’s no nuance in texting. There’s not even enough punctuation to understand intent.”
And for many kids, their experience at SCT is the first time they have seen a live performance, Hartzell said: “Seeing live performances is not what Americans do, and we’re trying to change that.”
SCT is currently the second largest children’s theater in the United States in terms of budget and audience size. Hartzell explained that this is due, in part, to “talent, technology and tolerance,” with rain persuading many to go indoors for a large part of the year and Seattle being one of the top cities for having more college graduates per capita.
“This is an educated city that appreciates art,” she said.
SCT is currently presenting a musical production of “Goodnight Moon” through April 26, and “Robin Hood” through May 17. “Goodnight Moon,” adapted by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s children’s book of the same name, is a musical tale (with book, music and lyrics by Chad Henry) that includes jumping cows, dancing bears and a room that springs to life. In “Robin Hood,” a romantic adventure by Greg Banks, the stage comes to life with swordfights and archery, word play and physical comedy.
“As an artist, I love performing for kids,” said Jim Jewell, communications director of B-Sides & Rarities, a partner project of The 14/48 Projects.
B-Sides & Rarities will present the second incarnation of “Saturday Morning Cartoons,” — which sold out in North Seattle last fall — Saturday, April 18, through May 9, at the Pocket Theater (8312 Greenwood Ave. N.), with six all-new short plays. Inspired by Saturday-morning cartoons of the past, the plays were written by local playwrights K. Brian Neel, Jennifer Dice, Darian Lindle, Gillian Jorgenson, Juliet Waller Pruzan and Wayne Rawley, in collaboration with their children (who came up with the storyline). They will be directed by Steven Sterne and performed by a professional ensemble of six actors.
Jewell participated in the first incarnation of “Saturday Morning Cartoons” with his 11-year-old daughter, who has been involved with the arts since she started drama classes at age 4. He said the arts encourage kids to become an active part of the community.
“It brings breadth to her life,” he said.
For the whole family
Thistle Theatre (6344 N.E. 74th St., No. 103) uses a tabletop style of Japanese puppetry called Bunraku to connect its young audiences to different cultures. Puppeteers, dressed in black, operate the handcrafted puppets from behind for realistic movement.
“It’s nice for kids to see puppetry in its traditional form,” said founder and artistic director Jean Enticknap.
Coming up, at three different locations throughout the Greater Seattle area, from May 16 through June 14, Thistle Theatre will present a 45-minute puppet production of “Little Red Riding Hood.” The classic cautionary tale, set in Bavaria, follows Little Red Riding Hood on the adventure to her grandmother’s house, with music and songs by Sue Ennis, including a wolf aria and an interactive song in which children are invited to sing and operate puppets. The show also has some German words peppered throughout it.
“We want the parents to enjoy the show as much as the children,” Enticknap said.
The Seattle Center also presents a multitude of events and activities geared toward youths and families, in addition to its resident organizations such as the Seattle Children’s Theatre, EMP Museum, Pacific Science Center and Seattle Children’s Museum.
“At the Seattle Center, we’ve always presented a lot that’s oriented toward kids,” said Seattle Center communications director Deborah Daoust.
This April, the Seattle Center is also presenting a lineup of child-friendly activities, including “Whirligig!” (which includes inflatable rides, balloon artists, face painters and caricaturists) through Sunday, April 19, at the Seattle Center Armory; and the World Rhythm Festival, Friday, April 17, through Sunday, April 19, at various locations throughout the Seattle Center.
“We seek to involve and engage youths,” said program manager Michelle Blackmon, adding that part of the Seattle Center’s mission is to offer creative family-centered artistic entertainment.
JESSICA DAVIS is a Seattle-based arts writer. To comment on this story, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.