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Wellesley’s young actors spread wings

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By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Each month, the Wellesley Library holds Picture Book Theatre, a program in which kids from kindergarten to third grade turn a picture book into a play, then perform it for their parents and library residents - all in the span of a couple hours.

This month, the story the children turned into a play was “Gorilla Loves Vanilla” by Chae Strathie. Essentially, the story is about an ice cream stand that is visited by an assortment of animals, all asking for wacky ice cream flavors based on what they would eat in the wild.

The kids showed up at the library at 3:30, and only had one hour to cast, rehearse and build some props for the play before they were to perform it. While there simply wasn’t enough time to create all the props, the kids did make the ice cream vendor’s sign with a large sheet of paper and magic markers. Then, children were assigned each animal role, and one was made the ice cream vendor.

One of the things that made this performance unique was that not as many kids as usual showed up; it was a very nice day outside, so it’s likely people were doing outdoor activities. Because of this, Librarian Emma Caywood noted that keeping the kids focused, which is usually the hardest part of the rehearsal, was a bit easier.

“The hardest thing is always keeping the focus,” commented Caywood. “This was a lot easier because there were so few of them, but sometimes we’ll have seventeen kids show up, and unless they show up, like, fifteen minutes late, I don’t really turn kids away. So, I make twelve parts for every show, but sometimes, on a less nice day outside, we would have three mice and they’d all say the lines together. But yeah, keeping the focus to get it all rehearsed in an hour is the hardest part, because kids have a lot of energy.”

While a show created in one hour inside of a library might not seem to be the most professional theatre production, Caywood is absurdly qualified for the job. She has a bachelors degree in theatre from Northwestern, and ran this program in a couple of different states before coming to work at the Wellesley Library.

“I’ve been here for four years doing this,” she explained. “Before this, I was at Mamaroneck Library in New York, and before that, I started doing this for a theatre company called Appletree. That was where I sort of inherited the class. I did it at Wilmette Actor Training Center, because I was a drama teacher before I got my masters in library science, so I’ve been doing variations of this. When I got a theater degree from Northwestern my training was in children’s theatre and creative drama, so this is kind of drawing from the things that I studied as an undergraduate.”

Because of her educational background, Caywood can tell you that there are some things that make the program unique. Other than the obvious facts - like the relatively small time commitment compared to a full play - she points out that young kid don’t have to memorize their lines (some did, but she would read them aloud to the kids who didn’t).

“What’s unique about this experience is the kids get the chance to create something and perform it in an hour, and they don’t have to memorize it if that’s not their skill set. Some kids did memorize, though,” she said. “And, unlike most theatre experiences for kids K to third grade, there isn’t that challenge of remembering their blocking, remembering their lines and remembering what they did last week, because this is a completely isolated experience. So, it stems more naturally off children’s play than a lot of theatre you can do, and yet, unlike pure creative drama, it’s a performance, so the parents get the cute factor.”

So, if you think your child could be a future Broadway star - or would just enjoy spending an hour creating and performing a play - Wellesley’s Picture Book Theatre is the way to go. After all, it’s taught by a Northwestern theatre grad and modeled on the way children play as opposed to the rigid structure of memorization or the freelance nature of pure creative drama.

Plus, it’s cute.

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