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BWW Blog: Let's Talk About Children's Theatre

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"You never know when you're making a memory."

That's a quote I heard several times over the course of my two years at State Fair Community College, spoken every time by director Eric Yazell. As he gathered a large group of people into the tiny SFCC green room, he shared this quote with us to get us amped up and ready to do some of the most exhausting (yet rewarding) work we will ever do during our time at SFCC: children's theatre.

I got to participate in two of Eric's children's shows, once as an actor and once as a musician. I played in the band for his production of Wanda's Monster in 2018, and played the lead role of Wilbur J. Mole Rat, Jr. in Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience the following year.

BWW Blog: Let's Talk About Children's Theatre
Promotional poster for Naked Mole Rat
Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience
(Pictured: Alyce Wilson, Ben Brewer,
Cody Jones, Josh Barner, Holden Childress,
Tessa Luechtefeld, Tehya Robinson, Torrie Shelly)

Before each show, Eric reminded us of the importance of what we were about to do. It was pretty much the same spiel each time, yet we all needed to hear it. Because to us, it was just another show. But to a young kid in the audience, it could be an experience that sticks with them long after they leave the theatre. We wanted the kids to have fun and to be included in something really special.

And maybe turn them into theatre fans. That's a huge plus.

Doing Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed was a new experience for me. I had never done children's theatre before, especially not like this. From Monday to Friday, we performed this high-energy show three times a day for school groups, with one public performance on Saturday. It was a wild week. We were tired. We had major mic problems. I knocked my kneecap out of place during a performance. But seeing how excited the kids were and how engaged they were made it worth the effort.

Being a part of this experience and introducing hundreds of young people to musical theatre each day was special, but what made it even better was the message that we were sharing with them.

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed is an adaptation of the children's book of the same name by Mo Willems. It follows a naked mole rat named Wilbur, who stirs up controversy in his colony when he discovers that he likes wearing clothes. Wilbur is harshly judged and nearly exiled before the oldest and wisest mole in the tunnel declares that wearing clothes does not hurt anyone and encourages the other moles to give it a try.

It's okay to be different. That is the lesson that those kids learned when they came to see our show, and with the world we live in today, that is perhaps one of the most valuable lessons you can teach a child. They are going to grow up in a world that is full of so much diversity, and they need to be taught that it's okay. It's okay to be different. It's okay to be unique. It's okay to be yourself.

Children's theatre, everybody. It's not just silly costumes and silly stories. It gets pretty deep.

While the kids may not have fully understood the lesson they were being taught, all of us onstage knew exactly what we were trying to say. I think that I can speak for the rest of the cast when I say that I hope this show inspired someone. I hope that maybe they'll take up an interest in theatre later in life. I hope that they remember the lesson we were trying to teach them, so that if they ever feel like they have to hide who they truly are, they'll think back and remember that time the guy in the funny naked mole rat costume told them that it's okay to be different.

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