It may seem like elementary stuff – getting up in front of grade-schoolers to play dancing French dogs, slacker teens who ride a cardboard rocket to Mars, and runaways who end up running from reanimated Egyptian mummies – but the actors who introduce live theater to Northern California youth via the B Street Theatre School Tour are well-trained experts in tomfoolery.
Currently touring more than 100 primary and middle schools with “Fantasy Festival XXVI” – a showcase of five award-winning playlets written by area students participating in the B Street’s annual playwriting festival/contest – the troupe will present a public performance of the kid-penned anthology at the B Street Theatre at 10 a.m. April 14, 2012.
Among the B Street actors who are very serious about being silly, is Sacramento native Isabel Siragusa, who joined the 26-year-old troupe
early this year.
late in its winter 2011 season
A 2011 Yale University graduate with a degree in theater studies, Siragusa had her sights set on an acting career even before she made her first stage entrance at 12.
“As a 5-year-old I loved ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ ‘Mary Poppins’ and Luciano Pavarotti,” recalled Siragusa. “I would watch videos of the Three Tenors in concert over and over again.”
“Audrey Hepburn is a huge inspiration because she was so graceful and giving. When I was in sixth grade, I saw ‘Moulin Rouge’ and that movie changed my life,” Siragusa continued. “I knew I had to do that for the rest of my life.”
About the same time, her parents took her to New York where she saw her first Broadway show: “The Lion King.”
“I had never experienced anything like that,” said Siragusa, who attended Sacramento Country Day School, adding that while mom and dad frequently took to her live performances, “I wish I could have had a program like B Street’s come to my school.”
When the 22-year-old Siragusa was hired for the B Street School Tour – as a last-minute replacement for another actor – she was both excited and anxious. It was, after all, her first professional gig, though her Ivy League training was more than extensive.
“During college, I worked with Clowns Without Borders in South Africa,” she said. “We traveled to schools in rural villages and put on clown shows and taught workshops.”
“I was just put on the road,” said Siragusa of her B Street introduction. “It’s been a whirlwind experience. But (Associate Producer) Jerry (Montoya) really helped me get ready to perform for large audiences so that they can see and understand everything I do. (B Street Theatre Producing Director) Buck (Busfield) said that the School Tour is the best training, and I completely agree. I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”
Siragusa said any pre-performance angst she experiences fades once she takes the “stage” – which often is just a cafeteria or “multi-purpose room” floor.
“Getting the kids excited about theater makes my day,” she said. “I love talking to them and seeing the joy they get from our show. I especially love doing the Fantasy Festival because all the pieces were written by kids. It makes it even more inspiring and fun for the students.”
This year’s winning quintet of works (more than 150 were submitted) are: “Gretel and Bob and the Curse of the Sarcophagus” by Tamsen Dean and Nathaniel Wiede (Rocklin Elementary School); “How Chad and Jimmy Saved the World” by Jessamy Johnson (Gold Oak Arts Charter School); “Mutts in a Rut: A Silent Film” by Kimberly Bean (Taylor Street Elementary School); “What Not to Wear: Royal Edition” by Chrissy Ainger and Dominique Perez (Sutterville Elementary School); and “A Series of Sitters” by Mia Whitfield (Sutterville Elementary School).
Siragusa won’t commit to a favorite among the five (“They all wrote such fun stories.”), but said “Mutts in a Rut” is particularly fun to perform.
“It’s such a different style,” Siragusa gushed of the play inspired by the Oscar-winning film “The Artist.” “I love playing a dancing dog in a silent film!”
April 14 will be a busy day for Siragusa, who in addition to performing in the public performance of “Fantasy Festival XXVI,” will be featured in a 7 p.m. benefit staging of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” at the Crest Theatre as part of Sacramento Women Take Back the Night.
For more information about the April 14 public performance of "Fantasy Festival XXVI," call the B Street Theatre at (916) 443-5300.
Editor’s note: Edits have been made to this article after publishing.