BWW Review: The Future Looks Bright with This Year's KIDSPEAK at the Carrollwood Players Black Box
A mime verbally announces his love. Two girls fall head over heels with the same boy during auditions for Romeo and Juliet. A senior has a last homework assignment...and it's a doozy. Dancers try to uncover a mystery of what has happened to their dance shoes and fluffy slime. A young man is incarcerated in a Burundi prison.
Imaginary friends, a group of wannba superhero girls, and a teen with an overprotective dad. What is this? A Saturday Night Live special? A collection of short stories? Or the latest Netflix series?
Actually, it's the latest offering of KIDSPEAK, an annual tradition at the Carrollwood Players for the past four years (this year's ran the weekend of February 8-10). A group of youngsters, mostly ages 11-13, write short plays that are then acted out by adults. Some of the plays are really strong, while others are quirky but flawed. And some of the actors breathing life into the parts are unbelievably good, while others feel like they are reading directly from the script for the second time.
But each student gets to see her or his work produced, directed (by Deborah Bostock-Kelley and Kaedin Cammareri) and ultimately performed in front of a paying audience. Winners are announced on the Sunday matinee. Are we watching the next Lin Manuel-Miranda (as director Kelley claims about these pre-teens)? That is to see.
Eight plays were spotlighted in this year's festival. The Dance Mystery (Detectives Again) by Cassidy F. (age 11) is a cute whodunnit that meanders quite a bit but remains light-hearted and joyous; Cassidy has obviously been to a dance rehearsal or two. 12-year-old Ashlee L's Becoming Romeo and Juliet is like High School Musical without the music. The Last Homework by Reginalda J. (age 12) perfectly captures the frustration of having to write a lame high school assignment when you've never completed an assignment in your life. And Lost in Prison by Jolicia H. (age 12) is way too adult for what we were expecting, but it's gutsy work, going against the comedic trends. I liked that Jolicia went against the grain and created something very dramatic.
My favorite script was by Musiq V (age 11) entitled Daddy's Girl, about a girl who wants to go to a dance academy, but her overprotective father isn't so sure. It was written with heart and was the closest to being a finished product. (For the record, the audiences and the judges voted Daddy's Girl as the third best of the lot, but it was #1 in my book.)
The Super Kids by Tristen S. (age 12) was fun but had lots of dead spaces where the audience was waiting. But I thought the idea was cute and had potential. And The Hidden Truth (voted #2 for Best of KIDSPEAK) had a nice feel to it (it was my third favorite).
The work that won KIDSPEAK was the very last one: The Mime by Jordan L. (age 13). This one was my #2 pick, and it had so much to offer. I loved the idea, and think Jordan can work on it, tweak it, make it longer, and create something very fun and unique. As it stands, it has the honor of winning KIDSPEAK, and for that, congratulations!
Of the performers, Alexa Sheppard stole the day with various, offbeat characters and a wonderful energy. Other actors involved include the strong Alex Andrews, Beth Behner (great facial expressions!), Tiffany Cline, J.R. Deines, Mary Kay Cyrus, Daryl Everett, Leanne Ferguson, K'Han Phillips, the likable Wally Ramiriz, Carlee Soto, Karen Tepfenhart, and Marybeth Wells.
There is a let's-put-a-show-on-in-the-basement feel to the whole thing, with minimal sets, and that's part of its charm, like something out of an Our Gang comedy. I also love hearing adults say lines written by children; that part is a hoot.
There were way too many scene changes in the short scripts (some of which seemed more like short movies than short plays) and transitions that didn't make sense. This is to be expected with young writers. I do have a couple of suggestions for next year's festival: Every person, including the panel of judges (which I joined this year), should vote for one of the productions on any of the nights, not just Sunday's performance. And all of the playwrights should be present when the winners are eventually announced.
We need to applaud these young artists and hope that they continue to write, to tackle heavy themes and not just comedy, and to keep the faith and never give up on their dreams. That's the power of KIDSPEAK. The future is in their hands. And here's the nicest thought of all: After watching their work, you instantly realize that the future is certainly bright!