Some Magic Theatre cast members from the 2009 BVU Children’s Theatre Workshop.
With the nationwide attention drawn to the psychological and sometimes tragic impact that bullying has on a great many lives, a children's play that Buena Vista University students will perform in several Northwest Iowa schools in January seems especially timely.
Students in several elementary schools in the Buena Vista County area will get a lesson in tolerance mixed in with a lot of fun and excitement as BVU students perform their production of Magic Theatre in January.
This will be the tenth production of the children's play since Dr. Mike Whitlatch, professor of theatre and dean of the School of Communication and Arts, introduced the Children's Theatre Workshop in 1978 in the selection of course offerings for BVU's January interim. The class is offered once every four years.
"When I first started presenting the play, which is a series of about short 14 skits, it was one of the most produced children's plays around," says Whitlatch. "It's perfect for us because it allows me to cast as many BV students as I wish, and I like the lessons of using one's imagination and many of the skits talk about respect for others, which I believe is a real plus."
The basic concept for the play by Saundra Matthews-Deacon remains the same from year to year, but new casts of BVU students make each presentation different, says Whitlatch. "Each new crop of BV students bring their own spin on the show. In the last production in 2009, for example, one of the songs became a rap because that's what the cast wanted to do and it worked out incredibly well."
The January cast will include 12 students from a variety of academic majors. "This time we don't have any theatre majors and only one student has had extensive experience on the stage," notes Whitlatch. The students rehearse for three to four hours a day for seven days before they take the 45-minute show on the road. So far, a total of 15 performances are scheduled with these schools: Storm Lake public, Storm Lake St. Mary's, Cherokee, Battle Creek-Ida Grove, Galva-Holstein, Newell-Fonda, Laurens-Marathon, Albert City-Truesdale, Alta-Aurelia and Schaller-Crestland.
Whitlatch wants both the grade school kids and the BVU students to learn some important lessons from the performances. "I want the grade school kids to realize that using their imagination is something they can do the rest of their lives, that they should have fun when playing, and that they need to show tolerance towards others."
"While the BVU students will learn some improvisational skills from the class, I also want them to break down any self-imposed barrier that this play is silly, and just have fun," he continues. "They will get their reward when they see the smiles on the faces of the kids."
One of the students enrolled in the workshop, Kylie Peterson, a senior music education (K-12) and vocal performance double major from Lincoln, Neb., says "This experience will help me in my career because as a teacher I will be interacting with students a lot. I hope to glean confidence in front of a young audience since teaching is essentially the same as performance with a lot more interaction."
"I also hope to increase my learning of theatre as it applies to children and to possibly see what kind of organization it takes to have a group go out and visit elementary schools since I would like to be able to take my choirs out and do something very similar someday," she adds.
Kylie, who has extensive experience in BVU Theatre productions, also has another reason for taking the class. "As a senior, I wanted one more experience with 'Doc' as a director. I also felt that his stories about past experiences with Magic Theatre and how meaningful it is to the grade school kids show how important it is to continue that tradition and I want to be a part of that."