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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the February 26, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Week-long Banquet of Theater for Families
By the time most children reach kindergarten, they
have already heard about the gigantic dinosaurs and how they became
extinct. As New Jersey arts organizations prepare to welcome families
into their theaters for the sixth annual AT&T Family Week at the Theater,
a proposed state arts budget cut has given everyone the jitters. At
the same time that arts groups are rolling out the red carpet, they
are hoping that the Garden State’s bountiful and innovative arts programs
are not headed the way of the dinosaurs.
Ruth Fost, executive artistic director and a founder of the Pushcart
Players, is taking special pride in the generosity of corporate sponsor
AT&T. Last year her 28-year-old professional children’s touring theater
company based in Verona, was given a special commission to create
a bilingual musical play for families.
The result is "Tree Tales" or "Cuentos del Arbol,"
a show based on Spanish and Latin American folklore that is equally
accessible to English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, and bilingual audiences.
Designed for ages 5 to 12, the show will tour five communities during
Family Week at the Theater. It can be seen on Saturday, March 1, at
4 p.m., at the Brook Arts Center in Bound Brook. Admission is free.
"The Pushcart Players have staged collections of folktales from
many different cultures," says Fost, "and each time we start
the process we do a lot of research and reading. And each time we
find variations of the same folktales surface. The basic stories are
the same the world over."
Fost felt a special kinship to the bilingual project. Not only is
she a first-generation American, but she has two adult children who
have married Americans of Latino descent, including a son-in-law who
teaches in a bilingual school program in Washington.
"My parents came from Germany as refugees and German was the language
spoken at home," says Fost. "My younger sister was born here,
but even she never spoke a word of English until she went to school."
In addition to exploring written resources, she maximized her personal
resources by quizzing Hispanic family and friends on favorite childhood
tales. There would always be lots of variations, she found, but consistently
the one story that was always mentioned was "Little Red Riding
Hood" — or "Caperuchita Roja" as it is called in Spanish.
The well-known story, originally collected and published in France
in 1697, is a favorite in Spain and Latin America.
Thus "Caperuchita Roja" became one of four folktales that
are told by the play’s central character, Arbol, an ancient tree who
claims to know more stories than there are stars in the sky or fish
in the sea. Having lived for centuries, the tree has sheltered, shielded,
and nurtured countless characters. Their stories are filled with humor,
wit, adventure, and magic. In sharing just four of these tales, Arbol
offers a fiesta of themes. The colorful lore and spirited beat inspires
the tree to lift its branches and find new ways to grow each day.
"There’s such a beautiful, crystal-clear immediacy in being at
live theater," says Fost. "You know that that particular performance
was created just for you. It has never been just this way before,
nor will it ever be just that way again."
"As Elie Wiesel has said, over the course of our lives there are
precious moments in time that you always remember. Some of the most
precious moments that my family has had together was in sharing a
concert or a play. These are times when you transcend your ordinary
surroundings, you are elevated to a higher place."
"I think theater can inspire in a way that no other art can,"
she says. "It’s a window to the past and also a window to the
— Nicole Plett
Events take place Saturday, March 1 through Sunday, March 9.
10 Hamilton Street, Bound Brook, 732-469-7700. New bilingual musical
play for families. Free.
Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-846-2895, ext. 115. A play about loss,
love, and making choices by Wendy Kesselman, based on the real-life
story of a Holocaust survivor. Panel discussion for educators, adults,
and students follows the performance. Preregister, free.
March 1, 10 a.m.
973-379-3636. Free with preregistration, ext. 2338. Free.
March 1, 10 a.m. and
Front and Montgomery streets, Trenton, 609-392-0766. Join a workshop
and make a mask. Free.
609-258-2787. Blair Brown stars in Emily Mann’s unconventional production
of Shakespeare. $40 to $47. Receive one free children’s ticket with
an adult ticket on
March 2, 2 p.m.
Street, Bound Brook, 732-469-7700. A new bilingual musical play. Free.
Front and Montgomery streets, Trenton, 609-392-0766. Audience participation
comedy by Richard Hoehler. $20. Buy one adult ticket and get one child’s
ticket free on
Jersey, F.M. Kirby Theater, Drew University, Madison, 973-408-5600.
Family show adapted from Shakespeare for ages 8 and up. Buy one adult
ticket for $5 and receive two free children’s tickets.
March 4, 7 p.m.
New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. David Auburn’s play about a father and
daughter, recommended for ages 15 and up. $26 to $50. One free young
person’s ticket with each adult ticket on
March 4 to 6, and Sunday, March 9, at 7 p.m.
Millburn, 973-376-4343. Romantic musical comedy. $30 to $62. Buy one
adult ticket, get one child’s ticket free on these dates:
to Friday, March 5 to 7 at 8 p.m.;
F.M. Kirby Theater, Drew University, Madison, 973-408-5600. Family
Shakespeare for ages 8 and up. Buy one adult ticket for $5 and receive
two free children’s tickets.
Main Street, Metuchen, 732-548-0582. Musical version of the magical
fairy tale. One free child’s ticket with the purchase of a $12 adult
Somerset, 732-873-2710. Touring production from George Street. Free
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