SFA Theatre’s production of ‘Wind in the Willows’ an experience for all ages
NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - The SFA School of Theatre and Dance is putting on a playful production of “The Wind in the Willows” as part of their SummerStage Festival, from June 28 to July 1.
The well-known story has been adapted into a children’s musical based on the book by Kenneth Grahame and the songs of Gilbert and Sullivan.
“Because it’s established, we have a lot to work with,” said Jen Malmberg, the play’s director and choreographer. “It is a recognizeable name; people do know these characters and love them and want to see their journey. Hopefully we’re just bringing excitement to the adventure that Mole goes on with his friends as he travels to find who he is as a person and the meaning of friendship.”
Malmberg was joined by the three student actors playing Mole, Badger and Ratty. All three are seniors and said they appreciate the opportunity to break away from more serious plays and embrace their lighter sides.
“We are staying true to the story,” Malmberg explained. “We want to honor the story that’s been given to us and tell that and show that adventure. We get to put our own spin on it through design and color and kind of the world that we’re going to live in, but we are staying true to the story.”
The SFA production is aimed at kids and invites the adult attendees to remember what it felt like to be young. Malmberg said they put a lot of thought into how to capture their audience. The show has a one hour and ten minute runtime, but she said it has been tested and approved by four-year-olds, who sat through it well.
“It’s fun to look at it through a kid’s eyes,” Malmberg said. “Our summer is really the time we get to focus on families that are around and in our community and bringing those families to campus and into our space and speaking to them, so as we’re going through the show, really thinking, ‘Ok, I have a six-year-old in the audience. What are things we can do to speak to the kids in the community of East Texas to expose them to the world of theater and to storytelling.’ The musical itself is going to bring them in with the songs and the dancing and everything, but when you come to the show every child is going to get an animal mask that they get to pick out from a bunch of animals, and so they get to join in on the story by being an animal in the environment.”
The cast agreed the best part of having kids in the audience is the open feedback. “Kids haven’t been trained yet to be polite during a show,” one member said, but they agreed these open reactions bring energy to the actors. In fact, the actor for Mole said he was most curious to know what unexpected part of the play might fascinate the kids most — what they would end up still chattering about several scenes later. There are a number of aspects planned to keep people engaged.
“Beyond that, we have cars going through the audience, we have friends on stilts that they’ll get to see and interact with, we have a puppet show with some of our guys, so there’s a bunch of different elements — it’s a new thing, and it’s, ‘What’s coming? What’s next?’ It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Malmberg said.
One thing they hope the play will do is inspire young people to become storytellers or actors themselves.
“There’s so many community programs for you to get involved,” Malmberg said. “We have a community theater right here in Nacogdoches, Lamp-Lite, and they do programs for kids that are in lower elementary to junior high. And, we host a high school summer theater camp where kids can come and stay at SFA for two weeks and do a theater intensive with professionals from around the country and with some of our college students to really hone their craft, and to just start. There is no better place, and if there is not a place near you to start, go see theater. Go see. We’re in a lucky age now, where so much good theater is being recorded to give access to people that maybe don’t have a theater near them. Just start!”
Tickets for SFA’s production of “The Wind in the Willows” are available online or day-of at the box office. The first show will be on Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Kennedy Auditorium, with several more performances Thursday to Saturday. Malmberg described it as “an experience for kids of all ages.” To learn more about the SFA arts program, visit their page.
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