Bloomington's Professional Theater Company

Bloomington's Professional Theater Company

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The Herald-Times on Cardinal for Schools

Cardinal for Schools program whisks students off to Narnia

By Brittani Howell
September 24, 2018

It’s not every day your class takes a field trip to Narnia.

Throughout September, students have been traveling to C.S. Lewis’ magical land via Cardinal Stage’s production of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” On Thursday, about 20 fifth and sixth-graders from Harmony School took the journey to the Ivy Tech Waldron Theatre in order to step through the titular wardrobe.

“It’s a story the kids pretty much all read,” said Zevon Adkisson, who teaches the class alongside Kathy Boone. About two-thirds of the students had read the book before; others had encountered the story through the 2005 Disney adaptation. “Since they already have that connection, we thought it would be a good play to take the kids to, to see those characters really come to life onstage.”

Thanks to Cardinal Stage’s Cardinal for Schools program, the 20 Harmony students were among more than 5,000 children who attend a Cardinal production every year. The program subsidizes the ticket costs for many students and offers free admission to classes from Title 1 schools. Participating classes can attend a matinee during the school day, at a greatly reduced cost — about $6 per ticket — or for free. They make up the difference between ticket sales and the production costs through community donations and events like their fall fundraising luncheon, held this year on Nov. 14.

Gabe Gloden, managing director for Cardinal Stage, likes to think of the children’s series and the schools initiative as the theater company’s “feeder program” to instill a love of live performance in children at an early age. Young audiences are often neglected by professional performance venues, he said, but kids can’t fall in love with the art if they’re never exposed to it.

“Now more than ever, people are looking to introduce their children at a very young age to the joys of the performing arts,” Gloden said. Cardinal wants to make sure local residents have access to shows that make that introduction.

The theater company chooses three student-friendly productions to stage each year: two for elementary audiences, and one for middle and high school-aged audiences. Gloden said the company consults with area teachers and librarians to select the plays for young audiences in an effort to match what they offer with what kids are learning about in the classroom. Often, the shows are adaptations of literary works, like “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” or last season’s “Robin Hood” and “Peter Pan.”

“To see a live performance of a literary work ends up improving their overall understanding and comprehension of the work,” Gloden said. Often, it makes them want to go pick up the original material, if they haven’t done so already.

Each production also comes with a study guide, provided for free on Cardinal’s website, for teachers to reference in any activities around the play.

At the Waldron on Thursday, the young audience made up of Harmony students and a group from Clear Creek Christian School hushed as Lucy, Susan, Edmund and Peter Pevensie, now grown up, recounted their time in Narnia through an elaborate game of make-believe in their childhood bedroom. They giggled when Lucy, upon meeting the half-man half-goat Mr. Tumnus, cried “What strange legs you’ve got!” and pointed to his funny hooves; and they craned anxiously to see the destruction in Tumnus’ home after the White Witch smashed it up and kidnapped him.

Often, the four actors broke the fourth wall to interact with the young audience members. Once, Edmund sat in the audience between his lines and exchanged a smile and a whisper with a Harmony student. Kids went rigid in their seats, pretending to be turned to stone, when the White Witch aimed her wicked wand at them during the big battle for Narnia.

Back in the Harmony classroom, Adkisson and assistant teacher Kara Duval-Fowler peppered the class with questions to make them think not just about the story, but the artistic decisions that went behind the way the play was written and staged. What did they think about the sound effects, and the music? What did they think about the frame device, of the four children telling the story to the audience and donning costumes to portray different characters, rather than performing the play straight?

“It made it kind of strange,” said Liam Havill-Weems. He pointed to one moment when Aslan, the lion ruler of Narnia, gestures to Peter — but Peter isn’t really there, because the actor playing Peter is also playing Aslan. Liam had to use his imagination to put Peter back in the scene. “I kind of had to picture that,” he said.

Others, however, thought the frame device was fascinating. Jacob Schmiechen said he particularly liked how the props were used: the way all the costumes came out of the magical wardrobe, and how the four children turned into different characters merely by swapping costumes and picking up toys around their room, like a lampshade crown for the White Witch or a beaver puppet for one of the talking animals; or using a wagon for the witch’s chariot and a coat rack for the lamppost in the woods.

“They made it so it was kids in a house telling a story, so it made sense they wouldn’t have all the stuff,” Jacob said.

“They actually used a lot of creativity,” agreed Sierra Walden.

And, just as Gloden had predicted, she added, “It made me want to read the book again.”

Coming up next

The next plays in the Cardinal for Schools program are Beauty and the Beast (Dec. 12-30) and The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley (May 10-26, 2019). If you are a teacher and would like to bring your class to a performance, reach out to audience services manager Leah Boruff-Bodoin at Cardinal Stage’s administration office, 812-336-7110. Learn more at Cardinal’s website, https://cardinalstage.org.