Children’s Theatre Reaches New Heights at Dietrich
By Rick Hiduk
Four cast members will represent the Dietrich Children’s Theatre (DCT) for three performances of “Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears” this weekend. There is no cost for admission for the shows, which will be held at the Dietrich Theater 60 Tioga St., Tunkhannock. The production, which was adapted from an African folk tale, is one of four sponsored this year by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. Show times are Friday, Nov. 11 at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and on Saturday, Nov. 12, at 11 a.m.
“The tradition of story-telling in West Africa is really big,” said director Jennifer Jenkins of one of her reasons for selecting “Mosquitos.” She also likes the way the story lends itself to the stage. “It’s big. It’s loud. It’s colorful, and there is lots of movement.” While the tale is geared to 2- to 12-year-old children, Jenkins noted, anyone who enjoys a good story will be “happily surprised.”
Children’s Theatre actors Laurel Radzieski, Rich Ryczak, David Swanson, and Doreen Schottman each take on two roles in the play, with Radzieski portraying the buzzy, braggart mosquito who lets the iguana, played by Ryczak, in on a little secret that is actually a fib. The simple lie spreads quickly through the animal kingdom, but the magnitude of the story quickly grows out of control. By the time the untruth reaches the monkey, also played by Ryczak, the situation has become such a crisis that the sun cannot rise and the whole world is plunged into darkness.
“I think that the theme of this play is a lot of fun because you can see the progression,” Jenkins related. “The tiny lie grows into a great big problem until there is a tragic consequence, and the kids can relate to it. It’s about cause and effect.”
Jenkins became involved with the Dietrich Theater and Wyoming County Cultural Center for about three years as a board member and started the children’s theatre program in the summer of 2010. She explained that representatives of the PA Humanities Council who were involved in taping a television program at the theater were impressed by the success the community had enjoyed in getting the Cultural Center up and running. They followed up by sending advisers who worked with Jenkins and others involved with the theater. Through them, Jenkins applied for the first annual grant that made it possible for DCT to produce five multi-cultural children’s programs this year.
“We try to give the kids a sense of the wider world around them,” Jenkins stated, noting that previous productions employed cultural elements from Russia, China, and America’s Southwest.
Each production is kept simple so that DCT can take the shows on the road. “Everything we do is very portable, so we can perform the shows in cafeterias, gymnasiums, and, if we’re lucky, an auditorium,” noted Jenkins, who added that this manner of giving back to the community also helps the actors and those behind the scenes gauge the effectiveness of the programs.
“We have a good time with the kids. They have really responded to the shows,” said Jenkins, who can tell that the ensemble has done its job when children approach her weeks after a particular program and relate the educational components that stuck with them.
She credits her core ensemble, who have covered the majority of the acting roles since last summer, as well as costume and makeup coordinator Sarah Henn and light and sound director Caleb Carlin, for maintaining a consistency to the program. DCT has become a labor of love for all involved.
“Part of the fun of doing children’s theatre is the spark of creativity that the members bring to it,” Jenkins remarked, noting that the cast members and crew bring original ideas into each production. “It’s really a wonderful environment.”
As with so many programs and events this year, DCT’s schedule was disrupted by the September flooding, which inundated the historic Dietrich Theater to record levels and caused the postponement of “Lon Po Po,” a Chinese “Little Red Riding Hood Story.” The production has been rescheduled for Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9 and 10.
Interest in and support for DCT have been strong, and Jenkins has recently applied to the Humanities Council for funding for next year’s program. While she would ultimately like to coordinate “a couple of different casts” and rotate several shows at a time, Jenkins is content with the initial success the program has enjoyed. “We’re just happy to get kids into the theater,” she stated.
To reserve free seating for performances of “Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears” or “Lon Po Po” readers may call 570-996-1500.