BWW Review: Stages Theater Presents the Magic of Humanity in WHOEVER YOU ARE
Housed on Main Street in Hopkins, Minnesota, Stages Theatre Company (STC) persevered for almost 35 years by producing exceptional, professional theater for young audiences. Believing in the enchantment, images and power of theater, especially for youth, the company produces world premiere productions commissioned especially for their home stage.
On a sunny Thursday afternoon, a large cast of 15 youths and one adult stood on center stage to perform the world premiere of Whoever You Are. Mem Fox's popular 1998 children's book formed the collaboration between local composer and lyricist Aaron Gabriel and playwright Jeannine Columbine. Working under Director Melanie Salmon-Peterson brought this story to theatrical life. To do so required notes culled from over 300 students in 20 classrooms capturing their thoughts of from grades one to three. This immense collective student body wrote in journals responding to cues and questions regarding Langston Hughes' poem, "I, Too," which begins many sentences with "I am." The last poem line reads: I, too, am America. While the children explored who they were as Americans, the play translates this into who we are as humanity all across the world.
This charming, colorful production transports the cast by way of a Cloud Cowboy, actor Tristan A. Brown to places near and far around the globe that discover children's commonalities instead of their differences. Familiar topics gleaned from the young peoples' journals, such as cuisine, clothing, cultural markets and and vibrant celebrations characterized the memories embedded in the children's journals. One line taken straight from the musical explains: "Different colors are you and me, like a human tapestry."
Fox's book, and subsequently the musical, seek to remind adults and youths that by being merely part of the human race we enjoy worldwide commonalities. As the children sing: "One day I will be who I dream to be," they realize that while they currently play a daughter, sister, friend or student, at this time in their lives, their potential is only beginning, full of unimaginable possibilities. They also learn that most children and their respective families celebrate holidays and birthdays with distinctive customs waiting to be enjoyed by others. While the traditions may be unique to one culture, celebrations occur in every nation.
Several of STC's commissioned plays, similar to Whoever We Are, have been produced by other theater companies, including Madeliene's Christmas and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Each production features significant roles for young people where after this afternoon performance concluded, three youth actors commented on the experience of live theatre: Simone Alexa, Soren Miller and Celia Birgy. All the actors have participated in Stages performances, and rave how the positive experiences involved in acting encourage and support their own dreams. Those magical moments which help them grow their own desires when they, too, as in the play, say: One day we're not going to be little anymore, and we can create something more. While several of these actors participate in the company's Conservatory Program, where students train for life and the professional stage, others find their way to these productions from the local community.
Each of the crew and technicians involved in any production create and engage the theatre, whether commissioned for the very young--interactive and multi-sensory- or productions for young, teenage audiences. Talents appreciated this coming fall when Stage Theatre celebrates their 35th anniversary season by including classics such as Charlotte's Web, Mary Poppins, and Willy Wonka. Whether one catches the last weekend of Whoever We Are or a selection from the Most Magnificent Season in 2018-2019, be sure to attend an entertaining afternoon or evening at the theater in the near future. Encourage these young thespians and the company to build toward another future that will endure, ensuring the theatrical arts will thrive 35 more years and keep this magic alive.
Stages Theater Company presents Whoever We Art through May 20, or plan for 2018 Theatre Summer Workshops for ages 4-17, purchase season tickets, or find answers for any further questions at stagestheare.org. .