By Jennifer ManganThink kids’ theater and most of us conjure up images of some monotonous fairy tale fare. But ask Libby Pratt what makes for good kids’ theater and she’ll think about Tolstoy, Twain, Shelley and Poe. Pratt believes American kids are socially and academically deprived when it comes to entertainment. As founder of Globalstage Family theater Adventure, she set out to change that. Pratt filmed theater-for-youth performances live in the United States and abroad and packaged them for video distribution. The videos aren’t typical American theater. They’re far headier than that. She compared European theater for kids to American theater and realized kids want more complicated and intellectually stimulating material. Pratt confirmed that notion as she observed her 11-year-old son, Preston, and countless other children mesmerized by a Dutch troupe performing a moving adaptation of Bethold Brecht’s “Mother Courage.” Pratt thought that if Brecht could be made accessible to kids, surely Hardy, Tolstoy, Twain and Shelley would easily fall in line. There are currently 10 tapes available in the series. “Ligeia” by Poe is due out soon. Although pricey (titles are as much as $30 each, plus shipping), it’s well worth the expense to introduce great literature to our children. You’ll be the hit of the neighborhood for passing these videos along. Each video is recommended for ages 7 and older. More information is available by calling (888) 324-5623 or online at www.globalstage.net.
HOW MUCH LAND DOES A MAN NEED, written by Leo Tolstoy and performed by the Perskey Ridge Players. Leo Tolstoy is hardly a popular author among tweens, so it’s unlikely your child has read this short story or even knows who Tolstoy is. Every Globalstage video begins with hosts Elizabeth McNamer and Pratt’s son, Preston Bleakly, discussing the play they are about to see. In this video, Preston asks all the right questions while McNamer, a knowledgeable British auntie type, offers background on Tolstoy and his motivation for writing the story. This adaptation stays true to the original story of greed, but the performers add slapstick and zip to the production. Buck, the main character, is a happy “man of the earth.” He farms the land, loves his wife and is pleased with his life... until the Narrator shows up. Clad in a soldier’s helmet, a gladiator’s vest, a shimmering skirt, pink tutu and cowboy boots (I later learn her outfit represents the past, present, and future, but I just liked her individuality), she informs Buck that he is merely a poor sharecropper who does not own the land he works. No longer content, Buck begins an insatiable quest for more and more land, more and more wealth. At the expense of everything he once valued, Buck’s greed eventually costs him his life. Sounds pretty heavy, but the actors’ quick-witted deliveries turn the story into a satirical, live-action fantasy that provides a treasure chest of wisdom and reason for conversation. PLAYING FROM THE HEART, written by Charles Way and performed by the Polka Theatre for Children. Kids love true stories about determination. This dramatization based on the life of Evelyn Glennie, a world-renowned musician, begins on a farm in Scotland when Evelyn was a young girl who wanted more than anything to be a musician. To achieve her dream, she first had to overcome a major obstacle: Evelyn was profoundly deaf by the age of 8. The five-member cast (with the help of a percussionist) perform the story of Evelyn’s fight against those who don’t believe she has “ears on the inside” or is gifted enough to be accepted into London’s Royal Academy of Music. There’s no glitzy stage set or props; its success is due to the unadorned method of storytelling. A studio interview with the real Evelyn Glennie concludes the video. Each video includes a pamphlet that describes the performance. The pamphlet accompanying this 98-minute video includes discussions of determination, deafness, sign language and even stereotyping of people who are deaf or have disabilities.
THE MAN WHO CORRUPTED HADLEYBURG, written by Mark Twain and performed by the Perskey Ridge Players. I would not suggest beginning your Globalstage experience with this adaptation of the story written by Mark Twain. Some of the male performers (they often play dual roles) are dressed as women, which kids may find a bit too strange. This amateurish production was my least favorite Globalstage performance, although it has my favorite take on the theme of greed. Hadleyburg is a small town that prides itself on its honesty. But, as Twain contends, how can we claim to be honest if we are never tempted? Before Hadleyburg is to receive the Most Incorruptible Award a mysterious bag of money shows up on the steps of city hall. An attached note says the contents, $40,000 worth of gold, should be given to the man who can write down the exact words he used 20 years earlier when he gave $20 to the stranger. Temptation and greed become the major themes explored in this 42-minute video.Jennifer Mangan is a free-lance writer who lives in the west suburbs with her husband and four children, ages 16, 15, 12 and 11.