BWW Interviews: CATCO is Kids - An Interview with Associate Producing Director Joe Bishara

BWW Interviews: CATCO is Kids - An Interview with Associate Producing Director Joe Bishara

The Contemporary American Theater Company (CATCO) was founded 27 years ago by Geoff Nelson, but in early 2010, CATCO merged with Steven C. Anderson's children's theater group, The Phoenix Theater for Children, creating its current evolution entitled CATCO Is Kids. CATCO Is Kids produces several shows each year for young audiences at both the Columbus Performing Arts Center and the Riffe Center.

I recently got the chance to chat with CATCO's Associate Producing Director, Joe Bishara on how CATCO's children's program has evolved, what CATCO Is Kids has to offer currently, and how the CATCO Is Kids program is one of the best places in Central Ohio for young people to get their first experience with theater.

I think there may be a misconception that The Phoenix Theater for Children has "disappeared". What has the merger changed, and what remains the same?

We have bundled ourselves (CATCO and the Phoenix Theater for Children) into a single brand. As we move forward, you will see us refer to our fine programs for young people as CATCO is Kids. It's still the same imaginative and captivating programming, but it draws us all a little closer to help central Ohioans know who we are and how broad our reach of programming is."

What does the 2012-13 season have in store for CATCO Is Kids?

We opened with our first show, The Tales of Beatrix Potter, which was a delightful romp through two of Beatrix Potter's stories with some audience participation.

Then, I am really, really excited about our next show, opening December 7th. It's The Neverending Story, which is very strongly based on the book, and the subsequent movie which came out in the 80's. That's an all-kids production, featuring 27 of Central Ohio's most talented kids, between the ages of 9 and 16.

In January, we are doing a collaboration with Columbus State Community College. They offer a commedia dell' arte class studying Italian Street theater and it just so happens that our founder, Steven Anderson actually wrote a commedia version of the very popular story of Beauty and the Beast. That production will utilize four of our CATCO acting apprentices, as well as students from Columbus State Community College. We are really happy to partner with Columbus State.

Our next production is Hairpsray, which we are collaborating on with Senior Repertory Theater of Ohio (SRO). We did this last year, with the wildly successful musical, Annie, and so we decided to do it again. That will be running the last weekend in February and the first two weekends in March.

Following that, we have another all-kids production of Schoolhouse Rock Live. Anyone who is familiar with the television series from the 80's, will love this. I'm a really big fan of that show, because it reinforces that learning can be fun.

Last, but certainly not least, is a production called Boats, which is actually produced by the Terrapin Puppet Theater from Australia. We are bringing them in to produce their show in Columbus, Ohio, in collaboration with the Wexner Center for the Arts. The show just actually received the 2012 Helpmann Award for the Best Presentation for Children  This is the highest honor that a theater company for young people can gain in Australia. It is a very bare bones production, but there is such beauty in its simplicity. It's almost like campfire stories, where one person is telling the story and another person is creating the set piece as they are talking, or putting the pieces together that will make the sound effect that makes the next part of the story come to life."

What makes CATCO IS Kids different from other theater experiences?

We try to pick pieces of literature to bring to life on stage that you can have a discussion with your children about before you come to the program, and then when you see the program, there's something that you can discuss after. That's why we create play guides for all of our productions. The play guides are available on our website that you can have those discussions. We also have exercises that you can do with your children before the show, and after, so that you can have a pre and a post- conversation.

In addition to that, we only pick stories that can fit into educational standards, so if you look at the play guides, we also point out what those standards are. We are really focused on it being a learning experience, and that learning can be fun. That's one of the ways our program stands out.

We also don't put anybody on our stage, particularly our adults, that haven't undergone some form of Artist Education training, because we want our patrons to feel completely comfortable with their children interacting with our performers. Entertaining is one aspect, but entertaining and learning from that entertainment, is what's particularly important to us."

What do you hope your audiences take with them after viewing a CATCO Is Kids production?

What we hope they see, is that the CATCO and CATCO is Kids productions maintain the same level of production value. The children in our all-kids productions are being held to the same standards as our professional actors. Our program is such that we hold our patrons in such high regard. We want everything to be the best it possibly can be. When people leave a CATCO Is Kids show, they are saying, "Wow! That was GREAT!" It made them think, it made them feel, and it made them excited to come back for the next production. That's the essence of storytelling. It should "light the spark".

We hope that people will take a chance on us, if they've never experienced us before, and we don't think that they'll be disappointed. Especially, with the CATCO Is Kids series, because it's affordable for a family. It's live entertainment, and something that doesn't end after the show is over. We want people to know that there's quality family theater programming done by local professional artists here in Central Ohio. We're trying to offer the theater community here in Central Ohio a one-stop shop. Start your children's theatrical experience with us, and they can stay with CATCO for the rest of their lives."

CATCO and CATCO Is Kids shows and acting classes are available year-round, Additional Information can be found on their website at

Photo courtesy CATCO.

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