An Unconventional Family Bonded by a Dog: Childsplay’s “Super Cowgirl and Mighty Miracle”

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I figured that the littles and I would enjoy any play where one of the main characters is a dog (played by a human), but I didn’t realize how touching and thought-provoking a seemingly simple tale could be. We knew going in that Childsplay’s Super Cowgirl and Mighty Miracle would likely be fantastic. When we saw The Velveteen Rabbit a few months ago, we were blown away. What surprised me about this production was how playwright José Cruz González took serious current social issues and made them approachable for young audiences and how Childsplay’s actors communicated the story in such a way that these beginning theater-goers could “feel.”

Childsplay summarized the play:

When a stray dog appears on the doorstep, it’s love at first sight for six-year-old Cory, and the last straw for Grandma Autumn. Life hasn’t been easy lately for either of these two, facing absent parents and lost homes. But in a delightfully surprising story filled with humor and heart, Super Cowgirl and Mighty Miracle reminds us love makes almost anything possible, even in hard times.

The subject matter couldn’t be more timely.

We had the honor of listening to González speak about the play before it began. He explained how he wanted to tackle current issues that are facing so many in our country. He wanted to illustrate an unconventional family both in terms of multiple generations and in terms of race and culture.

My children (ages five and seven) were quite entertained throughout the performance. There were no untimely bathroom requests or declarations of starvation. They were riveted. They laughed a lot, and felt the tension that some parts of the story required. I enjoyed watching their faces as much as I enjoyed watching the performance. With such complex, sensitive issues being raised I wondered how much my children absorbed. I asked them what the play was about (possible spoilers):

Quotes from my seven-year-old:

• “The girl had to live with her grandma because her mom was dead and her papa had to go to another country to work. They didn’t have a lot of money, so that must have been hard.”

• “I thought it was cool how they went to all the different places and just switched a couple of things on the stage so you could tell where they were.”

• “The girl helped the dog, and the dog helped the girl and her grandma, too, so they became a real family. They all loved each other.”

Quotes from my five-year-old:

• “Love…and family.”

• “The play was about the dog saving the girl’s life just like she saved his life.”

• “The girl and the grandma didn’t get along so well at the beginning, but then they loved each other.”

• “My favorite part was when the grandma stepped in the dog poop!”

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I must say, the poop part was pretty funny. There were several points during the show that had the whole audience roaring. Despite–and perhaps partly because of–the hilarious antics, the kids were able to understand that the story was about love and family.

Aside from the fabulous performance that Childsplay put on, I love the fact that they make theater approachable for kids. After the performance, the actors took their traditional bows, but then remained on the stage. They first asked the children in the audience specific questions about the play that made them think how they, as individuals, could relate to the story. Some of the questions required detailed comprehension of the story, and some didn’t, so there were questions for all ages. Everyone had the opportunity to participate. The children then had the chance to ask questions of the actors. The actors were approachable and said “ask us anything!”

My favorite question came from a young man: “How old are you?”

It was clear that Osiris Cuen, who played “Cory,” a six-year-old girl, was nowhere near that age. Yet during the performance, she made us believe she was. “I’m twenty-two,” Cuen told the young man. Carlos A. Lara, who played the dog, reported his age as “twenty-four.” Perhaps we can figure that out in dog years. And Chanel Bragg, who played “Grandma Autumn” was a mere thirty-one! Now I really feel old. It was wonderful to see the children in the audience asking questions that adults would typically take for granted. Not only are the children learning at an early age how to think thoroughly about a production, but adults get to view a live production through the eyes of inquisitive children. How rewarding for all!

Related:  adopt a friend and get a free ticket: childsplay teams up with the arizona animal welfare league

 

Kristen
Mom Blogger

“The Cat in the Hat” Review

I took my daughter to see The Cat in the Hat, and we had a blast.  She was very excited to see the performers enacting one of her books.  That was really the most awesome part- they stuck to the book.  The set accurately reflected the images and colors from Dr. Seuss’s work, as did the character’s costumes.  My daughter was duly impressed by Sally’s very tall, very red bow, and even asked her how it stayed on after the show.  The script also came directly from the book- word for word. It speaks volumes for Childsplay’s creativity that they filled the time between the words with action to embellish the story without compromising the original work.

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The character of the fish was my favorite.  He was fantastic!  One warning- if you have smaller children, ask for seats that are farther back and up off the floor.  Close to the stage, all the seats are on the same level.  My poor daughter spent the whole time on her knees trying to look around the little boy in front of her, who was on his knees trying to see around the person in front of him.  Otherwise, we had a great time and I absolutely recommend it.

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Jennifer
Mom Blogger

Jessica reviews “The Cat in the Hat”

Although the set seemed minimal on first look, simplicity is not a good predictor of the full of fun surprise we got when this play unfolded. Childsplay’s interpretation of The Cat in the Hat, geared toward the younger age range still had plenty to offer to the kids at heart that grew up with Dr. Seuss books. The actors and the sound team did an amazing job of helping the audience tap into that little spot reserved for imagination. The simple act of imagining an invisible bouncing ball had me not only buying into the make-believe but becoming so engrossed in it that I forgot that you couldn’t actually see it.

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The costumes and set props in this play blew me away. They were so detailed that I felt like the characters and the set jumped right off of the pages of the book. From the inventive entrance of Thing One and Thing Two and their expanding bottom box, right down to the black squiggle lines on the costumes just like they were drawn by a pencil, and the grand finale of props as Dr. Seuss’s clean up machine rolled on in. It was jaw-dropping and awe-inspiringly cool. It was like seeing your favorite made up object come to life even though you knew it was impossible. Right up there with seeing a real live version of Willy Wonka‘s Wonka-mobile and Wanka-wash.  This was by far my favorite part of the play but there were plenty of runner up quality moments like the inventive use of the kites on wires, stacking of  Cat’s objects while showing top notch balancing skills, and the ever so animated fish in the fishbowl.

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The actors were funny, witty and well studied. When it came to portraying their characters, Katie McFadzen staring as The Cat introduced a silly and worry-free attitude toward reeking havoc on the unsuspecting while Thing One and Thing Two’s crazy antics and laughter had us all chuckling as we watched the mess they made get bigger and bigger.

This creative and fun play is a must see for everyone.  I was a little disappointed that my whole family couldn’t be there to experience fun but it was overshadowed quickly by the six year old giggles that I heard coming from the seats next to me. We were so lucky to have a friend along to help experience the excitement that we always seem to take away from Childsplay productions. I have spent the last week thinking of ways to incorporate a fun game of invisible hand ball and bringing back a little bit of crazy fun to our family. Seeing the Cat in the Hat come to life reminded me of how fun it is to be a kid, we had such a good time. I hope that my kids will remember this moment and bank it in their little vaults of happy times. Thank you again Childsplay for another great production.

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Jessica
Mom Blogger

Marissa reviews “The Velveteen Rabbit”

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First of all, I love Childsplay. Yes they gave me free tickets, but before child number 2 was old enough to need activities we were season pass holders. So this love comes from long before I got tickets to see a play. In fact, it stretches back to my childhood. I loved them even then.

This weekend we were fortunate to see the production of The Velveteen Rabbit. It was a trial play for the littlest in our family. At 2 3/4 she is not very good at sitting for long periods of time and is a bit antsy since we are still potty training. It was also a reliving of history for me as this was the first play we took my eight year old to way back when she was 3 1/2.

I must say that I was impressed. For a good forty-five minutes my youngest child was entranced, not sitting still, but entranced. She bounced from my lap to her dad and sister’s laps, but she paid attention. She exclaimed and shouted, “There’s a butterfly daddy”. For the most part she made it through that play and thought it was a pretty cool experience. She was gone for the last fifteen minutes because she couldn’t calm down again after using the restroom, but still, for her age they were able to hold her attention marvelously.

This is an excellent first play for a child. Every child imagines that their animals are “real” and that they are responsible for their care and fun. Having that reinforced by a great story is an awesome way to confirm their standing in the world. To tell them, without telling them, that what they do and experience is the same as what other children do and experience. The Velveteen Rabbit has a happy and magical ending, that children hope and wish could be true. Childsplay is even keeping the magic alive by enabling the children to get a letter from the nursery fairy. Such thought and care for children and their theatre experiences is essential to creating a true love of the art and Childsplay are, in my opinion, the masters of this experience.

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I for one, love the magic of the theatre. From the oversized set pieces used to make the boy seem small and the platform shoes that make Nana seem large; to the fact that the boy was played by a female actress and Nana by a male actor. I love that in this world of imagination children can see that there truly are no gender boundaries, really no boundaries at all. They can pretend to be whatever and whomever they want to be. Their bed can be a pirate ship, a wild jungle and an airplane. How many toys let children play in this manner anymore? Aside from a few children’s shows, how many acknowledge and celebrate the imagination?

The touching moment of the evening was when my oldest and I both teared up when the Velveteen Rabbit was put in the refuse pile. I reached over and grabbed her hand, knowing that she wouldn’t want me to acknowledge how sad she was and that it showed on her face, but also knowing that having me there would make it a little better.

That to me is what live performances are about. That shared emotion with those you are with and strangers who are experiencing the same roller coaster with you. You don’t always get that with movies and television as they are so pervasive that I find it rare that people actually focus on the movie or show. Instead they are checking their phones or facebook and twitter. A live performance if you let it can draw you in and hold you in a way that recorded versions can’t.  You never know what will happen in a live show and no performance is ever exactly the same. There is something magical about that fact.

This is why I love Childsplay, and why I am so grateful for the programs they take to schools. Every child should be able to experience a professional theatre experience in their young life, even if they can’t afford it or their parents don’t want to go. Every child should see the magic of the theatre and learn that while during the show it seemed real, there are always tricks going on backstage to make it feel that way. Every parent should experience this with their child if possible, for there is nothing like becoming a kid again by watching and experiencing something new with your own children.

May you never lose the magic, awe and wonder of childhood.

Marissa
Mom Blogger

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