18 April 2024
Entertainment Theater

Paper Bag Gamers Rejoice 65 Years of Making Magic Out of the Abnormal

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

Preschoolers know methods to derive pleasure from these objects (as does any curious cat). However maybe one of the best ways to understand their magical potential is to look at the Paper Bag Players, a New York Metropolis youngsters’s theater firm that thrives on turning the abnormal into the sudden.

Households 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 may even carry out in April at 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.

“On the coronary heart of our theater is making imaginative use of supplies,” John Stone, the gamers’ government director, composer and music director, mentioned 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 time, the uncooked supplies have expanded to incorporate foam board, Tyvek and family instruments like mop heads.

“We take our inspiration from them,” Stone mentioned of kids. “Then we’re making our personal kinds of issues with them in thoughts, or with their type 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, nevertheless, extends past its onstage parts. (Jonathan Peck designed the units for years; Florencia Escudero is the present scenic artist.) From the start, the gamers have prevented adapting fairy tales or well-liked classics.

“The whole lot is authentic,” mentioned Kevin Richard Woodall, the troupe’s stage director, choreographer and longtime forged member. Amongst youngsters’s corporations, he added, “we’re actually one of many solely ones that do this.”

For many years, Martin, the corporate’s authentic creative 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 automotive, 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 had been to create a “Saturday Night time Stay” for youngsters, it will resemble these exhibits.

Most seasons mix recent skits with a number of the gamers’ classics. The present manufacturing contains “Misplaced 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 dropping observe of each other.

Within the viewers, “the children simply get pushed loopy,” Stone mentioned, as they see that within the onstage household, “this child is just not discovering their dad or mum, and the dad or mum’s not discovering their child, again and again.” Earlier than lengthy, little theatergoers “are prepared to leap out of their seats and assist,” he mentioned.

Leaping 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 supplies sound results, which may be playfully boorish for a personality just like the eight-foot-tall Bob the Slob, a fan favourite who consistently and noisily eats. Within the new skit “I Received,” Bob makes use of bingo prize cash for a ticket to the gamers’ present. When he’s requested to fill in on a music quantity, hilarity ensues.

Not all of the skits are boisterous. Each present incorporates light, lyrical items that land with the pure stillness of snow. This yr, the gamers have revived certainly one of their oldest: “Large Crimson Day” (1960), during which they take the solar, clouds, a mountain and a home by adjustments that embody shifting climate. Night time arrives when a participant flips over a cardboard cloud to disclose a starry sky.

Ariane Anthony, the corporate’s managing director, recalled that Martin in contrast such works to poetry. “Kids don’t have sufficient poetry of their lives,” Anthony mentioned. “They usually like poetry.”

Adolescents admire it, too. In a cellphone 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 children.”

“As a teen, I nonetheless love them,” mentioned Heijink, whose mother and father know Stone and who grew up watching the exhibits.

The troupe’s principals attribute the corporate’s longevity to its dedication to not speak all the way down to its viewers. “We wish to entertain ourselves,” Stone mentioned. And whereas the gamers have struggled financially lately — the coronavirus pandemic, which stopped all reside performances, was a significant hardship — they hope to return to an expanded schedule of public exhibits and touring. A majority of their present performances are for faculties, which obtain an accompanying study guide.

However though youngsters can be taught from a Paper Bag manufacturing, its themes are much less tutorial than social.

“In nearly each present, we now have a bit that’s about changing into associates, or attending to know somebody that may be very totally different from your self,” Anthony mentioned. “It’s a Marvelous Paper Bag World” contains “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 be taught something,” Woodall mentioned, “as a result of I simply need them to, for 55 minutes, neglect college, neglect every thing. Simply come to Paper Bag World with us.”