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Volume 68, Issue 144, Monday, June 2, 2003


Children's Theatre Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary

By Ray Hafner
The Daily Cougar

Trying to keep one 6-year-old entertained for a few hours is difficult.

Trying to keep 200 6-year-olds entertained would have most adults running for the door.

But donit tell that to the actors at this summeris Childrenis Theater Festival, with performances in the Wortham Theater from now until August 3. And if Friday morningis performance of The Princess and The Pea was any indication, they wonit have any trouble keeping tots on the edge of their seats.

The Prince, played by Bernardo Cubria, pleads with the Princess, played by Ivy Castle, in The Childrenis Theater Festivalis premier production of The Princess and the Pea on Friday. This summer marks the 25th anniversary of the Childrenis Theater Festival.

Nathan Lindstrom/ The Daily Cougar

The play is a lavish, high-energy romp that fleshes out the familiar fairy tale and creates a new story full of strange princes, conniving dukes and one crazy fish-wielding princess.

Adapted by Sidney Berger, director of the UH School of Theatre, and directed by Carolyn Houston Boone, the production is based on the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale about a prince that must find and marry a "real" princess in three days or lose the kingdom to his evil uncle.

"The child audience is the most honest audience youill ever get," Berger said. If theyire not entertained, theyill run around and goof off, he said. 

They can also tell when youire faking. "Thereis no audience that will keep you more honest than a child audience," he said.

This is the 25th anniversary for the festival, which was founded by Berger and aspiring playwright Bren Dubay in 1978 with hopes of entertaining younger crowds with out patronizing them.

When Berger arrived at UH, he found Houston to be full of musical programs, but lacking in "spoken word" performances. A hole needed to be filled in the Houston theater community, Berger said. 

The University gives the festival some money each year, but Berger must raise about $500,000 to pay for the sets, costumes, actors and the original scripts and music. Each play is an original, usually an adaptation of some childrenis story.

This yearis The Adventures of Pinocchio tells Carlo Collodi's classic tale of the enchanted puppet who wants only to be a "real" boy and features music and lyrics from Tony award-winning Jerry Bock, who wrote Fiddler on the Roof. That play will run June 20 to July 2.

From July 18 to Aug. 3 the festival will present Magic Theater, an original revue that deals with childhood fears like monsters under the bed. The Princess and the Pea is running from now until June 12.

Most of the audience during weekdays is from daycare centers, Berger said. Most of the families that come on weekends hear about the festival through word of mouth. Berger said there was little money to advertise and the Houston Chronicle has little interest in childrenis theater.

Berger believes itis important to begin getting children interested in theater at a young age so they will continue to watch live theater as they age.

"If we donit develop audiences now with children then there will not be audiences 10 years from now," he said.

Berger said he saw proof of this last summer during a childrenis theater production of Brandon Finds a Star. One of the performers, a 19-year-old, told him his mother once took him to see a childrenis play at UH when he was just 5-years-old, and now he was starring in a childrenis play.

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