My first step towards creating PictureBook Plays began right out of college. As your typical starving artist working part-time at Starbucks, I also got hired to work as an actor at The Children’s Museum, Boston (now known as The Boston Children’s Museum). They have a fantastic theatre exhibit where children watch and participate in live performances. The shows are designed specifically for young children: 15-20 minute long, nothing scary, lovable characters, good stories, and actors who are 100% child-friendly. Children from the audience actually go up on stage and participate in the structured storytelling with actors prompting them and the audience helping as well. It’s lots of fun for big and little.
Eventually, I ended up at Chicago Children’s Museum working not as an actor, but as an educator. When asked to step in and teach a theatre workshop, I jumped at the opportunity. Unlike a structured class, museum activities have children of many ages who come in and out as they please. In order to accommodate the ebb and flow of children and families, I started out with movement games to draw a crowd and get everyone involved. And then we launched into a structured performance of Caps for Sale based on my experiences at The Boston Children’s Museum.
We read it together first, but when it came time to perform, I told the children where to stand, what to say, and how to perform. They, of course, loved it as much as their parents. But I felt there was something missing. There had to be a way to combine the process of play-making with the product of the performance. In this way, children and parents get what they really want (which is to be in the spotlight!) while I secretly teach them theatre skills including making choices, showing your actions, telling a story, sequencing, and collaboration.
So, I started to experiment…