The Springer Opera House has announced a new set of stage plays this year.
The Academy Series will serve the Springer Opera House’s youngest audience members, and provide shows aimed at starting a love of the arts early on in the lives of Columbus’ children.
Sally Baker, Springer’s education and academy director, has spearheaded the effort to begin the Academy Series. She recently corresponded with Sunday Arts reporter Carrie Beth Wallace for an interview about how and why the Springer plans to welcome their very young patrons to the theater the new series beginning this fall.
Q: What led to the development of the Academy Series at the Springer?
A: As the Education and Academy Director at the Springer, my focus is multi-directional. One focus is providing performance experiences for our students. I wanted more performance opportunities for our Academy students and opportunities where they could experience performing for very different kinds of audiences with new kinds of material. Another focus is our audience. I’m a mom of a 5 year old and a 3 month old, and I know that I am always looking for opportunities to expose my kids to a wider, more engaged world. I love theatre and I know theatre, and I wanted them to have theatre just for them (and the other thousands of kids in the Columbus area, of course). One more focus is for the future of the Springer. As the influence of the Springer continues to grow in Columbus, regionally and nationally, I want to keep the children’s theatre growing and developing. Theatres are just starting to experiment with Theatre for the Very Young, and I want the Springer to be part of that growth nationally.
Q: What productions are you planning to do for 2017-18?
A: We will create original adaptations of “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Wheels On the Bus.” Think of very creative storytelling, music, audience participation, and an uplifting story. Audiences will be able to buy tickets for one show or both shows as part of a package. The shows will use the same stock set, and it will be fun to see how each of the shows build very different stories using the same ‘tools.’
Q: How will these productions be geared to the very young audience members?
A: I believe the younger the audience, the more freedom there is in the approach to storytelling. Young audiences suspend disbelief much more freely than older kids or adults. These shows will be kept short (about 20 minutes each) and will depend on creative interpretation on the actors’ part. Audiences will have a chance to be part of the action of the story. Lots of visual elements, lots of surprise, lots of repetition. It’s going to be fun and a great challenge for our cast.
Q: Will you offer any performances for children with sensory issues?
A: Yes. I think these shows would be very appropriate for sensory performances. We did one sensory-friendly performance of “The Cat in the Hat” last year in partnership with the Autism Hope Center, and that is one of my priorities moving forward with the Springer Children’s Theatre. There is so much good theater can do for students with learning disabilities.
Q: How do you feel this will benefit our community?
A: More art always benefits the community. Offering performances for very young audiences does so many things — gearing shows to this audience gives them importance, it offers audiences the opportunity to think creatively and critically, it increases empathy, it provides parents and kids something engaging to do together, and it builds knowledge of the world. As a child whose parents insisted that I attend plays, the symphony, opera and ballet, I want that for my own kids and our city’s kids. Art changes lives, young and old.
Q: What ways are you hoping to see this program grow in the next few years?
A: I always have big dreams! I look forward to the creative, collaborative process our Academy students will go through to write and perform these adaptations. I would love to create an anthology of scripts for the very young and have it published one day. That doesn’t really exist in the world yet. I look forward to the Academy series hosting student-written and student-directed and designed works in the future. I look forward to teaching morning Mommy & Me classes in the coming years for parents or grandparents and their kids. I anticipate creating younger Academy classes for kids and introducing them to Life Skills Through Stage Skills, our Academy philosophy, at a pre-K age. I look forward to partnering with community organizations, maybe like the Chattahoochee Valley Library System and Muscogee County School District, to offer these shows to our youngest students in pre-K programs and younger. There are so many possibilities. The Springer Opera House may be 146 years old, but its youngest patrons will be less than a year old this season. I’m excited about being part of that history.