Children’s Theatre vs. Big Media Properties

Dec. 28, 2016
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As I sit down to write this, I have just watched the new Illumination animated film Sing. It's a fun, little animated feature about a struggling theater producer trying to put on a show that will pull him out of debt. It has a lot to say about the talent that drives ticket sales, but the film itself is a big product of a bigger production company that has already sold merchandise. The immensity of the property kind of compromises what it has to say about struggling theater companies. The movie just opened up not more than a week ago and already my daughters already have a cute, little plastic effigy of the scrappy theatre producer koala voiced by Matthew McConaughey. 

I am a father of two little girls. It’s been interesting watching them become little consumers with their own favorite mass-media characters. Modern mass media children’s fare comes heavily pre-packaged with product tie-ins and merchandise advertising beloved characters that haven’t even been introduced yet. Every month there’s a new set of beloved characters. There used to be one or two big children’s films per year. Now we get that many in a month. This month it’s Sing. Next month it’s Creech from Monster Trucks. The month after that it’s Lego Batman. The steady parade of children’s movies and TV shows robs them of some of their magic. That’s why I love local kid’s theatre. Today I saw Sing with both of my daughters. Next month I get to take each of them to a live kid’s theater show. There’s a unique intimacy in children’s theater that is far removed from the steady roll of t-shirts and toys and things that clutter up the mass media landscape. My 5-year-old may love Minions and Trolls and singing animals and such, but there’s a special place in her heart for Fancy Nancy. 

Jan. 14, Marquette University Theatre presents Fancy Nancy: The Musical. I’ll be bringing by 5-year-old daughter Amalia. It’s a kid’s theater show based on the popular children’s  book series by Jane O’Connor. Little Amalia loves the character, so she and I have become quite familiar with her long-running saga. Any theatrical interpretation would have plenty of options to choose from. The adaptation by Susan DiLallo prominently features Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet in which the title character (a little girl in love with all things fancy) must play a weeping willow tree in a fancy ballet. Placed onstage at Marquette, the show should be a lot of fun.  Fancy Nancy: The Musical runs Jan. 14 - 22. For more information, visit Marquette online.

Jan. 22, First Stage presents Lovabye Dragon. I hope to bring my 3 year-old daughter Isobel if I can pry her away from dreams of DreamWorks' Trolls for long enough to get her into the cozy, little theater space. Wisconsin-based author Barbara Joosse’s stories of a little girl and her big dragon comes to life with a 14-foot dragon puppet designed by  Brandon Kirkham. Lovabye Dragon runs Jan. 21 - February 19. For more information, visit First Stage online. 


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