Workshopping New Children’s Theatre

February 8, 2010

By Matthew Decker, Associate Producer

The Arden kicked off the month of February by working on a new play called The Flea and the Professor. Flea, cure based on Hans Christian Anderson’s final fairy tale, is the first children’s theatre production that the Arden commissioned. Playwright Jordan Harrison, composer Richard Grey and director Annie Kauffman traveled to Philadelphia and spent four days workshopping the new work with some of Philadelphia’s top talent.

What exactly happens in a four day workshop? The playwright, composer and director get a chance to hear the play read out loud. The process is not about preparing for a performance, designing sets or costumes, or choreographing a dance. The goal is simply to hear the play and make it better.

It’s a rare opportunity to be granted time to focus on the work, and we’re grateful to our donors that make these workshops possible – especially Harvey and Virginia Kimmel for their support of The Flea and the Professor and the Independence Foundation New Play Showcase for their overall support of new play development.

Since time is at a premium, you have to assemble great singers and actors who are able to learn material quickly and make strong character choices. Basically, you need some of the best and brightest folks in town to help you learn about your new work. Knowing that, we gathered Arden Children’s Theatre veterans Jeff Coon (Frog and Toad) and Kala Moses Baxter (The BFG), as well as Rob McClure, Krista Apple, Alex Keiper, David Ingram and Dan Hodge. We were lucky to have such immense talent in the room.

The first order of business was tackling the music – the actors worked with Richard while Annie and Jordan listened – and new verses were added, lyrics were re-arranged and notes were changed. Then Annie worked scenes with the actors, staging a bit of the play, and listening to how the story flowed. Jordan made adjustments to the script, giving the actors new pages of dialogue at the start of each day.

The weekend culminated in a staged reading of the piece. In attendance were ten 5th grade students from McCall Elementary, one of the schools that participate in the Arden for All Program. It was important to have young audience members hearing the piece, since that is the audience we are writing for. There reactions help shape the direction we need to go in developing the work.

The next step for Flea is the Kennedy Center’s prestigious New Visions/New Voices Festival. It is a weeklong festival in May for playwrights and theatres to stimulate and support the creation of new plays and musicals for young audiences and families. Five theatres in the country and two theatres internationally are chosen to participate in this festival. There, Flea will take its next major steps.

Following the festival – who knows? We may see Flea on the Arden’s stage in the near future.

In the meantime, we’re always looking for new children’s theatre plays to present on our stage, or great children’s stories to adapt into new plays. If you have any suggestions of stories to adapt or published plays that we should have on our radar, please post them in the comments section here.

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