2010-09-09 / Opinions

Washington Little Theater’s annual return of the Children’s Theater is a labor of love

By KIP BURKE news editor
Not everybody knows this, but there’s something wonderful going on in Washington this week, something special for our kids: a talented group of volunteer actors, directors, and hands are working together to bring live theater to our school kids.

It is a rarely noticed act of love.

This Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday more than a thousand school children will see a live performance of “The Reluctant Dragon” with their school classes on a field trip to the Washington Little Theater’s Bolton Lunceford Playhouse to the annual performances of Children’s Theater.

The kids are in for a treat, and I’m not just saying that because Scott Lewis’s genteel, tea-sipping Dragon had me rolling in the aisles in rehearsal. They’re in for a treat because these volunteers do this out of love. They love entertaining their young audiences, love watching faces come to life at their first sight of live theater, love hearing the laughter at their silliness.

This year’s director is Phil Rothman, a veteran of Children’s Theater, who has wrangling this bunch of volunteers through weeks of rehearsals and set building and costume making, not to mention riding herd on wild hams like Scott Lewis and Billy Creel in rehearsal.

This week, it becomes a marathon. The whol e company performs the play 10 times in three days, with more than 1,000 children in the audiences. The kids are from Washington-Wilkes schools from Pre-K through fifth Grade, plus two church Pre-Ks, Georgia TASC, and groups from Nat Greene, Briarwood, and Lincolnton.

That’s a long time to be in tights and makeup, I imagine. But it’s a labor of love. In fact, the Children’s Theater used to accept expense money from the Wilkes Board of Education, but last year, with the school budget tight, the Little Theater board of directors agreed that they should fund the project themselves. It was too important, they said.

It was a treat to watch their rehearsals the other night, as Scott experimented using his giant shiny green Dragon head in dialogue with Billy Creel, who stars as the heroic, gravel-voiced Saint George the Dragon-Slayer.

The very name of the hero kind of gives away the plot: Saint George is supposed to kill the Dragon, because that’s what Dragon-Killers do. He’s the good guy, and all dragons are bad, so they need to be killed, right?

But this Dragon, made friendly and funny by Scott Lewis’s Taco- Bell-dog accent, refuses to play his expected role. He’d just rather not put down his tea cup and attack the hero, and he’s not too crazy about getting slain, either. “Why do jou want to eslay me?”

The Boy, played by Greg Colvard, struggles to solve the standoff in a way that preserves both St. George’s honor and the Dragon’s green hide. Paula Stevens and Laura Conelly play a damsel and the boy’s mother and narrate, helping the audience understand the play’s themes.

The moral kids learn from the play, Rothman said, is that we shouldn’t judge each other by outward appearances or by our expectations of others, and that if we work together, we can come up with solutions that don’t slay anybody.

Beyond the moral lesson, because of Children’s Theater, all school children get a vital first exposure to live drama in a setting just for them. The actors acting out a script shows the students the connection between literature and drama, how stories on the stage or screen start out in the imagination of a writer and then into words on paper.

Once that dawns on them, kids just know they can write stories and plays, too. Who knows what creative flame might be first lit in a child’s heart there in the darkened Playhouse?

That’s why the dedicated cast and crew volunteer to do this year after year: they do it for the love of the kids, and the love of theater, and for the love of all the innocent laughter they can bring to our kids.

“It’s exhausting, but it’s wonderful,” said Tara Townsend, a Children’s Theater veteran. “But when you see those kids in the audience, and see their eyes get big, and hear them laugh, you’re hooked. We just love it.”

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