Play introduces kids to theater

The Erie Playhouse and Gannon University’s honorary theater fraternity, Alpha Psi Omega, have teamed up to support Erie’s youth.

During the past few weeks, members of Alpha Psi Omega – APO –  helped with schoolwork and led theater workshops for a group of about 25 children at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, which provides social services to the people of Erie. The workshops culminated in a special production of “Once Upon a Forest” directed and performed by APO. The second of two shows runs Saturday.

Jade Mitchell, a junior theatre and communication arts major, plays a maiden in “Once.”

“We wanted to do some service that would really impact people other than just ourselves,” Mitchell said.

Natalie Pertz, also a junior theatre and communication arts major, acts as co-director. She said she was excited by the prospect of collaborating with both the MLK Center and the Playhouse.

“The wonderful part about Gannon theater,” Pertz said, “is that we have a great relationship with the Playhouse, and we can pull costumes and set and props from there as long as we respect them.”

The Playhouse is not only providing stage equipment and hosting the production, but also purchased the rights to the script, waiving the cost of admission for MLK children.

“Once Upon a Forest,” a family-friendly adaptation of the Grimm brothers’ classic fairytales, follows three brothers on a journey to find the water of life. The play weaves together themes and characters from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Hans the Hedgehog” and “The Princess and the Golden Ball.”

In order to develop a rapport with the children, cast members were required to sign up for several tutoring sessions before introducing them to theater workshops.

“I just think this experience was so significant because for a lot of these kids, this will be the first time that they’ve ever been exposed to live theater,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said she hopes the children will pursue artistic endeavors even after the show is over.

“We would hope that this would inspire them to see more live theater as opposed to just going to the movies or watching television,” she said.

The show’s cast is mostly made up of APO’s current members and freshman pledges. Pertz said that the inclusion of freshmen creates a unique environment.

“A lot of them don’t regard themselves as actors,” Pertz said, “and that almost acts in our benefit.”

Given the youthful audience and the mix of old and new APO members, Pertz said the performers allow themselves to have fun with the show. She also said the children’s enthusiastic feedback helps the freshmen gain confidence in their acting abilities.

“They’re learning, the kids are learning, it’s a mutual growth experience,” Mitchell said.

“Once Upon a Forest” begins at 10 a.m. Saturday. Tickets are $5 at the door.



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