Posts Tagged ‘International Performing Arts for Youth’

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Four Days, 44 Shows (Really.)

February 2, 2011

By Lian Farrer, Vice President for Education

The week before last I was in Tampa Bay, FL, at the annual IPAY (International Performing Arts for Youth) Showcase and conference. And yes, I really did see 44 shows in just 4 days. And went to workshops, meetings, lectures, and a party or two. Despite the grueling schedule, I came home reenergized and excited about the things I saw, heard, and did.

I’ll begin with the sheep. Or, I should say, Les moutons. That’s the name of this bizarre but inspired interactive performance piece presented by a dance company from Toronto called Corpus. They set up a sheep pen (complete with sheep dung that I hope wasn’t real) on the plaza alongside the river walk. Through the crowd came a shepherd driving his flock: dancers dressed in sheep’s costumes. The dancer/actors who played the sheep should all win awards for never once breaking character during the show. They did the usual sheep-y things, including getting shorn and milked. I tasted the milk, warm from the udder. (Don’t ask.) Kids in the audience had a chance to come up to the pen and feed the critters. This show was totally goofy and unexpected. I’d like to figure out a way to work Les moutons into our State Theatre season. Can you hear me out there, Cook College?

Another show featuring herd animals was equally strange and wonderful: The Wolf and the Goat, by Italy’s Compagnia Rodisio. A wolf and a goat, natural enemies, take shelter one stormy night and, not recognizing each other in the dark, become friends. When daylight comes, will the wolf eat the goat? Will the goat manage to escape? Or will they break the accepted order of things and remain friends? (The audience never finds out.) The show is basically two actors—not in animal costumes, thank goodness—a red velvet settee, and three small lighted trees. Dressed in a simple white frock, Manuela Capece, playing the goat was all wide-eyed innocence, while Davide Doro, as the wolf, managed to be both sleazy and seductively sexy at the same time. The Wolf and the Goat was originally in Italian; my colleagues and I were further impressed when we learned that Davide Doro spoke no English, and had learned his part phonetically. Bravo, Davide!

Without a doubt, my very favorite showcase was Grug. Now, I will confess to you here that I normally don’t get too excited about shows for really little kids. But I lost my heart to a character who “began his life as the top of a burrawong tree” and who looks like this:

Grug was created by Australia’s Windmill Theatre and is based on a children’s book series that I confess I’d never heard of. The production was everything theater should be: imaginative, expertly performed, and completely captivating. I loved the clever design of the sets and puppets. Most of all, I was struck by how the actors seemed genuinely delighted to be performing for their young audience; there was no condescension and none of that exaggerated cheerfulness that makes me cringe at so many other shows targeted to kids this age. As we like to remind each other in my profession, children are just like our adult audience, only smaller.
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Report from the IPAY Showcase in Pittsburgh

February 5, 2010

Just got back from the annual Showcase sponsored by IPAY (International Performing Arts for Youth). IPAY is made up of arts presenters, artists, and artist managers, all on a mission to bring high-quality performing arts to young audiences. I love being involved with this group because I meet all kinds of people from around the world who share my passion for getting kids hooked on drama, music, dance, storytelling, and other live theater. During Showcase I was voted onto the IPAY Board of Directors. It’s a tremendous honor to receive this recognition from my peers. I’m totally psyched about taking on a leadership role in the organization.

About 300 people attend the IPAY Showcase each year. We see shows—a LOT of shows—from companies around the world. This year there were 20 full-length showcases, as well as “spotlights”—10-minute excerpts—of an additional 23 shows. The companies were from the U.S., Canada, the U.K., the Netherlands, Spain, Australia, and even Iceland. I’ve discovered some of my favorite shows and companies through Showcase and brought them here to the State Theatre. Among them are Det Lille Turneteater’s astonishing Hamlet and the playful, touching Snowflake. This week is the State Theatre’s residency with ScrapArtsMusic, an ensemble I first saw at the Montreal Showcase in 2003. I’ve been waiting seven years to get them here!

Showcase is held in a different place each year; this time it was in Pittsburgh. Our host was the Pittsburgh International Children’s Theater, which is part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The Trust has transformed downtown Pittsburgh by restoring the city’s grand theaters, building new facilities, commissioning public art projects, and developing urban parks and riverfront recreation spaces. I have to say… the vast array of Pittsburgh’s arts resources made me more than a little envious! We saw Showcases at nine different venues, including the brand-new and totally cool August Wilson Center. Loved the sail-like exterior and rich purple interior.

When I wasn’t watching showcases, I was in the exhibit hall talking to artists and artists managers, participating in professional development sessions, and of course, partying with friends and colleagues! With so many activities packed into four days, the conference kept me hopping from 8am until as late as 11pm. By the way, the Director of Marketing at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is none other than Marc Fleming, who used to be Marking Director at the State Theatre. Marc and I had a chance to catch up a little over lunch at a fantastic restaurant called Nine on Nine. If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, give it a try.
Pittsburgh was my 16th Showcase, but my first time as a member of the Selection Committee. Our group met back in June to review the submissions and choose which ones would be awarded a showcase slot. I felt both excited and a little scared; conference attendees can be absolutely brutal if they don’t like the showcase selections. I can tell you, the screening process is difficult! The committee makes its selections based on videos—always a risky proposition when it comes to assessing live theater. A couple of shows didn’t quite live up to their videos. The opposite happens, too. There was a one-woman show called Nearly Lear, an ingenious retelling of Shakespeare’s play. Based on the video, we awarded it only a ten-minute spotlight. Seeing it live, we all wished we’d given it a full showcase. Still, the feedback was that the Selection Committee did a great job overall.

Two of my favorite productions presented at Showcase were Australian imports. Plop! is a quirky, imaginative show for very young children. We Built This City, a “public construction extravaganza,” is an installation piece in which kids and families build and then destroy an entire city made out of thousands of empty cardboard boxes. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun! With any luck, you’ll get to see these shows someday at the State Theatre.

—Lian Farrer, Vice President for Education, State Theatre

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Report from the Children’s Theatre Showcase: Cleveland Rocks (But Sometimes It Doesn’t)

January 30, 2009

Last week in Cleveland I attended the IPAY Showcase of theater for young audiences. I got to see full-length performances of music, dance, drama, and physical theater from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Scotland, Denmark, and Israel. In all, I saw 14 shows in 4 days. Seeing the full-length performances was extremely valuable in helping to decide which shows we want to book for the State Theatre and (just as important) which ones NOT to book. As I’ve indicated in a previous post, you have to sit through a lot of mediocre/bad children’s theater in order to discover the real treasures. This year’s IPAY Showcase was no exception. 

Unfortunately, there were two productions—one from Australia and the other from the Republic of Congo—that were not allowed to perform at Showcase due to the U.S. Immigration Department’s refusal to grant them a work visa. I’ve seen the Australian show on DVD and it was so fantastic we will probably book it anyway if it ever tours to the U.S. 

My favorite performance at Showcase was The Man Who Planted Trees, from Scotland. The two actor/puppeteers have created a brilliant adaptation of Jean Giono’s short story about a French shepherd who devotes his life to transforming a barren wasteland into a fertile paradise by planting thousands and thousands of trees. The production is exactly what I look for in a show for young audiences. First and foremost, it’s an imaginative piece of theater, expertly performed. Yes, there’s an important message about caring for the environment, but it’s seamlessly integrated into the storytelling; the audience is never made to feel as if we’re sitting in a classroom instead of a theater. The star of the show is a dog puppet who was perhaps the funniest, cutest, and most talented performer in the entire showcase. 

The Man Who Planted Trees ended up winning the Showcase Audience Choice Award. This is a pretty big honor since the voters are all theater professionals. We’ve been trying to bring the show to New Brunswick ever since my boss, Wes Brustad, saw it at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland a couple of years ago. I’m thrilled to report that it will be on our 2009-10 season! 

Besides seeing lots and lots of showcases, I also attended sessions addressing important issues in the field of performing arts for young people. Particularly relevant to me was a conversation about the changing role of education directors at performing arts centers; many of us are seeing our jobs evolve beyond programming performances for schools to becoming an instrument for community outreach and engagement. We didn’t arrive at any earth-shaking solutions, but it was helpful to hear that many of my colleagues are grappling with the same concerns as I am. 

 —Lian Farrer, Vice President for Education

The State Theatre is located at 15 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick, NJ. For information or to purchase tickets call 732-246-SHOW(7469) or visit http://www.statetheatrenj.org/.

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