Today’s headlines: King Arthur and Sir Robin of Locksley pull out all the stops (as well as their sword and bow) to vanquish the evil Mordred; a boy’s neighbors find a bit more spring to their steps when a fairy godparent turns city streets into trampolines; a time-traveling scientist turns up the volume for all those he encounters during a mid-19th century sojourn; rival lemonade-stand entrepreneurs discover more in common than a mutual love of citrus fruit; and when a rebel cowgirl arrives in Rodeo Riday, she spurs the populace into making drastic changes.
If only the real headlines of the day were as entertaining as these.
These may not be actual breaking-news stories, but those familiar with the B Street Theatre School Tour’s annual “Fantasy Festival” productions have come to expect zany with a capital “Z” each spring, when company members collaborate with budding K-8 playwrights to break everything from conventional theater boundaries to “wind” in pursuit of laughs.
More than 150 plays from Sacramento-area elementary and middle-schools were submitted for this year’s “Fantasy Festival XXVII” competition, said Alison Whismore, coordinator of the midtown troupe’s outreach and education office. Five were ultimately selected, with each getting a bit of professional B Street polish by resident playwrights Dave Pierini and John Lamb.
“In the 27 years of serving schools, child audiences remain entertained and involved in the B Street Theatre School Tour,” said Whismore. “As it is the first – and sometimes only – exposure to live professional theater for many kids, the plays continue to be received with delighted surprise by all our audiences.”
Since March 18, school tour company members Mikey Pollock, Andrew Perez, Denver Vaughn and Andy Rathburg have been performing the 45-minute show for students and their teachers in cafeterias and auditoriums throughout Northern California. Before the show closes on June 7, the cast will have presented the fast-and-furiously funny showcase at 144 assemblies at some 110 schools.
On April 13, the troupe gave a pair of public performances at the Fairytale Town-hosted Sutter Children’s Center Wellness Festival. A free public performance is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 27 on the B Street Theatre’s B3 stage (2727 B St., Sacramento, Calif.).
Whismore, a two-and-a-half-year veteran of the B Street’s outreach/education office, said that while she’s come to understand and appreciate that the school tour program often plays to students who are live-theater newbies, she continues to be taken aback by the number of teachers and administrators who are among the uninitiated.
“This is hard to believe for some of us,” said Whismore. “There are many teachers in the counties we serve who have never seen a live professional performance of any art form: theater; ballet; orchestra; opera. So, culturally, we’re dealing with preserving the notion that these art forms exist and still have social power and impact.”
One of the greatest achievements of the school tour productions is demonstrating that kids and adults alike can actually survive for more than a half-hour without once pushing a smartphone keypad.
“My perception of our artistic goals as a company is that we want to bring arts exposure to students in the form of a professional live theater production,” Whismore said. “The entity being presented is a crafted play written, directed and performed with purpose. It is not structured to be interactive, which seems to be the trend of demands in recent years. More and more there’s a hope that we will involve the kids in interaction during a show. Our definition of audience engagement is achieved when the kids lose themselves in the stories and cheer, gasp or applaud in response to what they are experiencing.”
“In this age of social networking, and instant ‘gotta-share-this-now-with-someone-who-isn’t-here’ society … one hopes that it is a measure of accomplishment when actors can hold the attention of an audience of both children and adults for 45 minutes without a single audience member feeling the compulsion to ‘tweet’ the experience. That says a lot, I believe, about engagement and involvement, when the individual in the audience allows the moments to be that communal experience experienced with the ‘community’ – aka the audience – present in the same room.”
Of course, “Fantasy Festival” is as much about the playwrights’ accomplishments in holding the attention of audience members, as it is the actors’ performances.
This year’s winning playwrights and their plays are: Angela Tomasello (third grade, Williamson Elementary School, Rancho Cordova) for “The Trampoline”; Dolores Villaruel (fourth grade, Cordova Villa Elementary School, Rancho Cordova) for “Lemonade vs. Lemonade”; Jordan Dreyer and Abby Benvenuti (eighth grade, Sierra Oaks K-8 School, Sacramento) for “Jordan Da Rebel”; Josh Golden (sixth grade, Rocklin Elementary School, Rocklin) for “Robin Hood’s Adventure in Camelot”; and Emily Walmer (seventh grade, Quincy Junior/Senior High School, Quincy) for “The Time Traveler.”
While school budgets are continually scrutinized for possible cutbacks, Whismore said the B Street Theatre’s School Tour productions have earned such high praise in the last three decades that communities are loathe to let go of the opportunity to host them – including the annual “Fantasy Festival” shows.
“I was just calculating the number of shows sponsored by outside organizations,” said Whismore. “And it looks like 79 are being sponsored this year – 79 that the schools themselves didn’t have to pay for. That includes support from a lot of Rotary Clubs, whose emphasis is on literacy. While budgets keep getting cut, cut, cut in schools, these other organizations are rising to the challenge to make sure kids are getting arts education in schools.”
For more information on “Fantasy Festival XXVII,” the B Street Theatre School Tour program, or Saturday’s free public performance, call (916) 442-5635 or (916) 443-5300, or go online at www.bstreettheatre.org/school-tours.
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