Let the Playmaking Begin!

When you think of the story of Hansel and Gretel, what comes to mind?

A big candy house?  A trail of breadcrumbs?  I bet you can think of all sorts of things right off the top of your head.

Now just think: any of those elements of the story could be the building blocks for a brand new script, for a brand new play.

Theatre Artistic Director Reba Short and I have both written some material for a few of the recent takes on fairy tales that have been performed here at the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine, but this spring, we’re doing something different.

We’ve begun meeting twice a week with a group of nine Children’s Theatre actors in a unique setting: the kids aren’t rehearsing, they’re writing, and acting out (or simply freeze-framing) their own material.  That’s right, this time, kids are writing the script!

This is playmaking.

Drawing from the original Brothers Grimm story, some real life stories from the actors in the form of writing prompts, and lots of improvisation, we’re gathering material to create our fall production of Hansel and Gretel.

“Hansel, I’m scared.  I’m scared of what’s out there.  In the forest.”

These words, written by playmaker and theatre veteran Zara Boss, were spoken during our Thursday meeting this week, and who knows?—Gretel might end up saying them in the final version of the script.

But right now, we just don’t know.  And that’s what makes playmaking so much fun.

I love this process, because anything is fair game… I never thought that the breadcrumbs on the path or the spices in the witch’s kitchen might be characters themselves, but ask any of these actors, and they’ll tell you exactly what spices and breadcrumbs are thinking about:

Actors freeze as breadcrumbs during a warm-up.

“If only I was as popular as that paprika!” laments Aiden Davenport as a spice, while Edyson Pines mopes as a breadcrumb, “Those good-for-nothing kids, they left me behind!”  Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, breadcrumb MacKenzie Jones cries out, “There are birds here!”

I’ll be blogging about our process and progress each week as we continue to discover the world of Hansel and Gretel to create our original take on the tale.  I, for one, can’t wait to see what this group comes up with next!

Brittany Cook has been working with the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine since 2011. She has served as Musical Director, scoring and playing the original music for our mainstage productions, and she has worn many other hats as well! Brittany will direct our fall production of Hansel & Gretel.

Inspired by pal and puppet, Bridget created Visual Impairment Awareness Day

Bridget (second from right, with Reynaldo) and her fellow Kids on the Block puppeteers.

Bridget Fehrs, an 8th grader at Lincoln Middle School, has been a puppeteer with Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine’s Kids on the Block puppet troupe for nearly three years. (If you come to our theatre productions, you’ve probably seen her on stage there, too – she’s been acting with us for years, and just appeared as Country Mouse in our latest show.) The Kids on the Block puppets each live with a different disability or special need, and the young puppeteers who bring them to life are responsible for learning all about each puppet’s disability and being able to answer questions from the audience. Bridget is one of several puppeteers who got to know Reynaldo, a puppet who is visually impaired; she learned how to operate the puppet’s cane and answered dozens of questions from children curious about blindness.

Actors/volunteers Hannah and Jane received a sighted guide training from The Iris Network.

Inspired both by Reynaldo and by a friend who is blind, Bridget approached us with a thoughtful proposal for a Visual Impairment Awareness Day, an event to help kids “better understand what children who are blind encounter in their day to day activities.” To organize the event, Bridget and I worked in collaboration with The Iris Network, a Maine non-profit serving the visually impaired. With financial support from Unum (a longtime sponsor of the Kids on the Block puppet troupe), the event will take place on Saturday, April 27th here at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine.

Events will include Sighted Guide Tours, during which visitors can put on blindfolds and be guided by Kids on the Block puppeteers (trained by The Iris Network), a Braille scavenger hunt, and a Q&A with Cammy, who works for The Iris Network assisting the visually impaired.

Events will take place from 11am-4pm. Get all the details on our calendar of events. All the Visual Impairment Awareness events are free with admission!

I’m Rosanne. Be one of my campers!

Meet Rosanne!About Rosanne:

BA Biology, Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH)
Having joined the Children’s Museum & Theatre as an intern in the garden, Rosanne imbues a sense of curiosity and respect for the natural world into all of her teaching. Her previous work in education has taken her from Ohio to Central America and, most recently, to Vermont as a garden-based educator. Rosanne loves the creativity and imagination of the museum visitors and sees her work as an opportunity to inspire young people to be inventors, growers and makers.

Here’s what Rosanne has to say about her 2013 summer camps:

I’m excited to spend the summer telling stories, digging in the dirt and building amazing inventions! Our campers have such wonderful curiosity and imagination, perfect for understanding and appreciating the science that makes our world work. At these camps, we will be exploring the world of science with storytelling, imagination, and lots of excellent messes.

• Young Inventors 7/22-7/26  •

At Young Inventors camp, we’ll be choosing our own adventures! This camp is all about fostering curiosity and inventiveness and building problem solving skills. Together, we will be devising creative solutions to whimsical challenges, drawing on the museum’s exhibits for inspiration (we have whozits and whatzits galore!). We will learn basic principles of science, explore the beauty of simple machines and learn to embraces challenges as an opportunity to be more creative. For example, from a given set of supplies, we’ll tackle a whole bunch of challenges: create something to keep a secret in! Create new instruments for your band and sing us a song! Create a flying machine to safely carry a family of jelly beans! This camp is designed for 6-8 year olds. Come to Young Inventors camp and dream up your own incredible invention!

• Dinos Rock! (8/12-8/16) •

Later in the summer, we’ll be traveling back to the Age of Reptiles- to the time of the dinosaurs. This camp is all about exploring prehistoric dinosaur life and the earth’s landscape 180 million years ago, a time when the Museum’s special collection of artifacts was being made! Learning from life-size replicas of dinosaur fossils and real plant and animal fossils, we’ll make casts of animal tracks, play rousing games of fossil charades and dance in a dinosaur disco. Campers will play archeologist and search the garden for fossils, carefully uncovering its hidden treasure. What ancient species will they uncover? How did it live? What did it eat? Dino Rock! camp is developmentally appropriate for 4-6 year olds and, if you child loves dinos and digging and dressing up, this is the camp for them!

Talk to Rosanne:

Curious about Rosanne’s camps? Contact her at 828-1234 x229 or email her at rosanne@kitetails.org.

Ready to register? You can do it online here or call Shana at 828-1234 x232.

Show and Tell Gallery showcases biggest collection yet!

Louisa creates a sign for the fourth annual Show and Tell Gallery.

More than 40 artists ages 5 to 17 from as far away as Caribou and Limestone submitted work for the 2013 Show and Tell Gallery, a collection of work by youth on the autism spectrum. Each April since 2009, the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine has collected art work by young people with autism spectrum disorder and hangs the show for Autism Awareness Month. The show will be on display in the Museum & Theatre’s Stairwell Gallery through August 2013.

Artist Olivia Frankl created this remarkable reproduction of a Monet.

This year’s gallery includes more than 60 pieces, ranging from fanciful pipe cleaner dragons to striking photographs to a remarkably faithful replica of Monet’s The Boat at Giverny. Many students submitted work with encouragement from art teachers and special education professionals who recognized both their students’ talent and the value of an opportunity to share their creativity.

“Some children on the spectrum struggle with communication and may not speak to peers or

“Worry Not Dolls” by artist Kayla Campbell illustrates the creative use of mixed media you’ll see throughout the gallery.

teachers about their achievements,” says Louisa Donelson, the educator at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine who founded the gallery and responsible for its curation. “The Show and Tell Gallery gives them an opportunity to take pride in their work. Their teachers, families and even classmates come to see it. It helps the whole community recognize how much kids on the spectrum are capable of, and how many Maine families are affected by spectrum disorders.”

Support from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Maine and Walmart funds both the Show and Tell Gallery and Play Our Way, a series of free,

Louisa (bottom center) accepts Maine Autism Alliance’s Step Up! for Autism Award on behalf of the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine.

private playtimes for children on the autism spectrum and their families. This funding also supports a series of small art workshops led by Donelson for youth on the autism spectrum. (Space is still available in spring workshops; interested families can email louisa@kitetails.org for information.)

Last Wednesday (April 3rd), the Maine Autism Alliance awarded the Museum & Theatre one of its first Step Up for Autism awards, recognizing the Show and Tell Gallery, Donelson’s art workshops, and the Play Our Way Playtimes as vital resources for Maine’s autism community.