Paper Bag Players Celebrate 65 Years of Making Magic Out of the Ordinary

Paper Bag Players Celebrate 65 Years of Making Magic Out of the Ordinary

What enjoyable can you may have with plain brown grocery sacks and empty cardboard cartons?

Preschoolers know the right way to derive pleasure from these objects (as does any curious cat). But maybe one of the simplest ways to understand their magical potential is to observe the Paper Bag Players, a New York City youngsters’s theater firm that thrives on turning the peculiar into the sudden.

Families can expertise that transformative energy on Sunday, when the nonprofit troupe presents “It’s a Marvelous Paper Bag World!” on the Kaye Playhouse in Manhattan. (They will even carry out in April on the Jewish Museum and SUNY Orange in Middletown, N.Y.) The manufacturing consists of 13 musical skits tailor-made for audiences ages 3 to 9, and it celebrates a milestone that any performing-arts group would envy: the corporate’s sixty fifth season, making it one of many longest-operating youngsters’s theater troupes within the nation.

“At the guts of our theater is making imaginative use of supplies,” John Stone, the gamers’ government director, composer and music director, stated throughout a gaggle interview with the corporate’s principals.

The troupe’s devotion to paper and cardboard, from which it has devised units, props and towering characters, dates to its earliest days. In 1958, its founders, who included the dancers Judith Martin and Remy Charlip, started to experiment with easy objects. Over the years, the uncooked supplies have expanded to incorporate foam board, Tyvek and family instruments like mop heads.

“We take our inspiration from them,” Stone stated of kids. “Then we’re making our personal types of issues with them in thoughts, or with their form of play in thoughts. And that provides it again to the children. And it’s an upward spiral of inspiration.”

The Obie Award-winning firm’s distinctiveness, nonetheless, extends past its onstage elements. (Jonathan Peck designed the units for years; Florencia Escudero is the present scenic artist.) From the start, the gamers have averted adapting fairy tales or standard classics.

“Everything is authentic,” stated Kevin Richard Woodall, the troupe’s stage director, choreographer and longtime forged member. Among youngsters’s firms, he added, “we’re actually one of many solely ones that do this.”

For a long time, Martin, the corporate’s authentic inventive director, created most of the skits with the composer Donald Ashwander; since 2009, Woodall and Stone have been writing materials. The sketches typically introduce fantastical components to real-life settings: a subway automobile, a park bench, a kitchen with a leak (the water runs away from the plumber), or perhaps a Paper Bag performance-within-the-performance. If somebody have been to create a “Saturday Night Live” for kids, it will resemble these exhibits.

Most seasons mix contemporary skits with a few of the gamers’ classics. The present manufacturing consists of “Lost within the Mall,” a 1991 piece starring what Stone calls “tube folks” — Woodall and his fellow actors Ceili Fitzpatrick, Claire Lundin and Erika Mesa, all wrapped in cardboard — who preserve shedding observe of each other.

In the viewers, “the children simply get pushed loopy,” Stone stated, as they see that within the onstage household, “this child shouldn’t be discovering their mum or dad, and the mum or dad’s not discovering their child, time and again.” Before lengthy, little theatergoers “are prepared to leap out of their seats and assist,” he stated.

Jumping out of seats is a given at a Paper Bag present, for which Stone typically writes singalong, dance-along ditties. Drawing on influences as disparate as ragtime, klezmer and Gilbert and Sullivan, he performs all of the music himself, seated onstage at an electrical keyboard.

He additionally offers sound results, which could be playfully boorish for a personality just like the eight-foot-tall Bob the Slob, a fan favourite who continually and noisily eats. In the brand new skit “I Won,” Bob makes use of bingo prize cash for a ticket to the gamers’ present. When he’s requested to fill in on a track quantity, hilarity ensues.

Not all of the skits are boisterous. Every present incorporates light, lyrical items that land with the pure stillness of snow. This 12 months, the gamers have revived one in every of their oldest: “Big Red Day” (1960), through which they take the solar, clouds, a mountain and a home via modifications that embody shifting climate. Night arrives when a participant flips over a cardboard cloud to disclose a starry sky.

Ariane Anthony, the corporate’s managing director, recalled that Martin, who in contrast such works to poetry, famous that “youngsters don’t have sufficient poetry of their lives,” Anthony stated. “And they like poetry.”

Adolescents admire it, too. In a telephone interview, Hannah Heijink, 16, a highschool sophomore in Accord, N.Y., referred to as the gamers’ work “a stress reliever, and never only for little youngsters.”

“As a youngster, I nonetheless love them,” stated Heijink, whose dad and mom know Stone and who grew up watching the exhibits.

The troupe’s principals attribute the corporate’s longevity to its dedication to not discuss right down to its viewers. “We need to entertain ourselves,” Stone stated. And whereas the gamers have struggled financially in recent times — the coronavirus pandemic, which stopped all reside performances, was a serious hardship — they hope to return to an expanded schedule of public exhibits and touring. A majority of their present performances are for colleges, which obtain an accompanying examine information.

But though youngsters can study from a Paper Bag manufacturing, its themes are much less tutorial than social.

“In nearly each present, we have now a bit that’s about turning into mates, or attending to know somebody that could be very totally different from your self,” Anthony stated. “It’s a Marvelous Paper Bag World” consists of “Volcano” (2011), which wryly subverts conventional tropes by that includes a dragon that’s removed from ferocious.

When youngsters attend a present, “I don’t care in the event that they stroll out and study something,” Woodall stated, “as a result of I simply need them to, for 55 minutes, neglect faculty, neglect the whole lot. Just come to Paper Bag World with us.”



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