One-woman rendition of ‘A Christmas Carol’ challenges audiences beyond enlivening seasonal spirit

A fifth-grader’s perspective…

I really liked the play. I invited my friend and when the Marley ghost and the future ghost came, we were so scared. At first, I didn’t like being scared, but we were quickly able to laugh about it.

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Tempe Center for the Arts is full of Christmas spirit for both of its seasonal productions.

I will say, Katie McFadzen did act good, but I think it would be better if there were more people to play the characters in the play.

On scenery… The lamps and wreaths were really pretty — I really liked that. The trees were cool. Other than that, I loved it.

A mom’s perspective…

It providentially became a “Girl’s Night Out” when we saw “A Christmas Carol” at Tempe Center for the Arts, which is home stage for Childsplay Theatre. My daughter and I went because she loves the story. Believe it or not, she is the one who introduced it to me when we saw some area high schoolers enact their version in 2015.

_MG_2061.JPGRoughly 24 months later, it just so happened that the two guests we brought along to Childsplay’s version were also female — a classmate and her mom. It was kind of fitting since the lead actor — and only actor on the playbill — was female as well. Katie McFadzen resurrected her role as every character in the script for “A Christmas Carol”. That is most likely why Childsplay suggests a slightly older audience for this production. It requires somewhat careful listening and few distractions to fully appreciate the span of characters one person can portray within an 80-minute script.

I’d say, feel free to grab a ticket for Childsplay’s production of “A Christmas Carol” if you:

  • Plan to see it as an adult — a few key women seemed to chuckle the most throughout the performance we attended.
  • Have a kid, we’d say 10 and up — Childsplay says 9 — who can handle a few slightly scary scenes, especially involving Marley’s ghost. Refer to my fifth-grader’s review above.
  • Can accept some artistic decisions like having a female play Scrooge — and that same actress portray every other character in a monologue type fashion — plus be okay with minimal props/scenery, no intermission, etc.
  • Want to encourage yourself or your youngster to think beyond the play and apply its theme to their own outlook on life. Childsplay provides a “Before You See the Show” guide as well as discussion questions for the ride home on your way out of the theater plus quick activities in the lobby to keep your mind pondering the theme. McFadzen herself helps write the Resource Guides connected to Childsplay productions.

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There’s also a large display encouraging you to think about a “big problem” of today and consider how to make the world a better place. The display further encourages you to “Give the Best of Yourself” with concrete ideas on how to do so on your own or through Valley organizations. Right next to it, you might find a representative from Lost Our Home Pet Rescue, who supports pets and their parents in crisis. Feel free to bring an item to leave with them.

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Other reasons to see Childsplay’s version of “A Christmas Carol” are if you:

  • Can be flexible if the 10-minute Q&A Childsplay is often known for, and is listed in the program, does not occur.
  • Have seen or plan to see “The Man Who Invented Christmas” at the movie theater and want to see “A Christmas Carol” with a renewed perspective. (If necessary, check out the scene-by-scene guide for its appropriateness for kids).
  • Want to challenge yourself or your younger theater patron to compare/contrast Childsplay’s version with one you’ve seen in the past or one of the four other “A Christmas Carol” productions currently on stage at as many theaters across the Valley. My fifth-grader and I were able to compare Childsplay’s version with that high school production we saw in 2015. She also astutely recalled several lines from the play when watching Jim Carrey’s movie version 24 hours after seeing the Childsplay performance.

…What I’m curious about now, is how Childsplay’s version compares to “The Smurfs” version we noticed for sale at a grocery store a couple of days later.

 

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‘Go, Dog. Go!,’ A Captivating Canine Carnival

By Jennifer Woods

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Justin and I recently took our kids Gretchen (7) and Patrick (10) to an early Saturday performance of Go, Dog. Go! at Tempe Center for the Arts.

First off, I want to give a big high five to the team that created this dazzling performance that expertly echoed the feeling of the book.

The story of Go, Dog. Go! is about dogs and their day-to-day life activities that are very much human. Rather than adding a lot of dialogue to create a 50 minute play, the book comes to life as each silly scenario is retold through larger-than-life dancing and musical bark-singing set to whimsical French accordion music, making the words not so important and this play perfect for even the tiniest tots.

Visually, this show sparkles. The monochromatic costumes and bright graphic set design is much more bold and bright than the actual book.

The amount of audience participation was unexpected and incorporated throughout — from the introduction of MC dog in the stands at the beginning of the performance to the mid-show baseball game to the 10 minutes of food-for-thought questions post-performance with the entire cast.

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Speaking of participation, I wanted to share the thoughts the rest of my theatergoers. Here’s some of our car conversation after the play:

Jen: What’d everyone think of the play?

Gretchen: Good. Fun. It was kind of like the book. It had every single page.

Patrick: It was a fun live experience. They actually had the audience part of the performance.

Jen: For example?

Patrick: One example, is the part where they were playing baseball and then they actually threw the ball into the audience!! [Jen’s note: Don’t worry, Folks, the “baseball” is a large beach ball]

Justin: And the clapping.

Jen: What did everyone here not expect?

Gretchen: I didn’t know it would have lots of songs in it. And that they all looked pretty much like the book — because the dogs looked exactly like the book. I didn’t expect that they would actually have cars made and being used. I just thought they’d have wheels and move around. They actually had full cars. They had the trees and ladders so they could climb up. I expected them to just stand behind the trees. I didn’t expect it to be that fun. It had lots of pretty props and I didn’t expect to like it better than drawing horses. [Jen’s note: Gretchen’s current favorite hobby is drawing horses]

Patrick: I didn’t expect that the audience was incorporated inside the play.

Jen: I didn’t expect an entire audience of kids to be entertained the entire time.

Justin: Nobody cried.

Jen: The only thing you could hear from the audience were kids giggling and one little boy yelling “I LOVE IT” right in the middle of a scene.

Gretchen: Ya, I didn’t expect that the kids in the audience would yell a comment during the performance on how good it was.

Jen: Would you recommend this show to your friends. Should they to go see this?

Gretchen: Yes.

Patrick: Yes.

Jen: Is this more for younger kids or older kids?

Gretchen: It’s great for everyone!

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Family Blogger Brandy recommends you “Fit [Go, Dog. Go!] into your holiday plans!”

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If you love to laugh, you’ll have a great time at the Childsplay production of Go Dog, Go!.  From the opening scene to the very end, Go Dog, Go! is full of pure silliness and sensory delight. The book is based on the simple premise of five dogs (red, yellow, blue, green, and black) with human characteristics and the interactions of their day.  Much to my children’s delight and following the simplicity of the storybook, there were few human words and lots of barking dog scenes.

I was a little nervous at first if both of my children would be entertained and if the show would be engaging for the entire hour.  The answer was yes on both accounts!  From the very beginning, my three year old daughter was on the edge of her seat and laughing out loud.  My son was a little more hesitant at first but warmed up quickly with the scene of dogs playing baseball, one of his favorite activities.  Be alert, some of the dogs come off the stage and there is some audience participation.  My son absolutely loved that he was able to participate in part of the show and the other children and adults around us all seemed to enjoy that part as well.

The show follows the dogs through their activities of working and playing, going up and down, driving and crashing cars, and staying up playing at night while they are supposed to be sleeping.  The theme of friendship is explored heavily throughout the show and the actors really showcase the different aspects of friendship that children experience and can relate to – feeling left out in a group, having disagreements and making up, and playing jokes and pranks on each other.

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After the show, the actors line up on stage for introductions and questions..  First the actors ask the audience questions and then they answer questions from the audience.  The questions from the actors followed the theme of friendship.  I really appreciated how the actors took several questions from the audience and didn’t back away from the hard questions – like why isn’t the red dog wearing red shoes? (Spoiler alert – because the character has a woodsy theme and the artistic director thought brown hiking shoes fit his character best.)
Overall, this is a lighthearted and engaging show that children and adults will both enjoy. We highly recommend finding time to fit this show into your holiday plans! 
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Family Blogger Staci’s review of Tomás

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Shaped greatly by the likes of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, I believe I continued to be a writer into my adult life because I was fortunate to have some amazing influences that guided me to become the best I could be. I can’t imagine adding a language and cultural barrier to the odds of achieving greatness, so I related to Tomás and the Library Lady, however I also reveled in his tenacity and ability to overcome obstacles.

Tomás brought to life, a character that children could easily relate to, as a role model. He was a determined dreamer, and while he had fears of failure, he used his vivid imagination to grow in so many ways throughout the story.

Even though his family was poor, they were loving, supportive and hard-working—coupled with the friendship he honed with a librarian in his small Iowa town, he learned not only how to be a good person, but how to have a breakthrough with language and learn to read in English. That new ability allowed him to be swept away from the chicken coop his family resided in, to magical places through the words in his books. The Librarian often let him borrow books and even gifted him a journal to write his own adventures in.

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The life of Tomás is a true and amazing tale of an unlikely hero who changed the world through strength and a love of learning—he never forgot his roots and remained humble, crediting that Librarian for her devotion to making learning fun.

I was impressed with the depth of characters in this show, my daughter and her friend accompanied me, and their reaction was insightful. Both commented on how motivated Tomás was to learn, but teachers had been cruel and impatient with his language fluency. They remarked that finding the Library Lady meant he had someone who was teaching him on “his terms” and showed him ways to make learning not only bearable but amazing!

Library Lady Actress Liz Polen said, “My mom has always inspired me through her patience and understanding. She has always been endlessly patient with me throughout all my different struggles as a kid to now as an adult. And she has always displayed deep understanding of all people that she comes into contact with, always trying to learn about who they are and what is important to them.

Tomás Actor Enrique Guevera added, “My voice teacher at ASU has helped me understand a lot about myself and my craft. She has instilled in me that perfection does not exist, but that we can always strive for it in an effort to better ourselves.”

And that was the moral of this story—to accept others as they are and help them strive to learn new things. The acting in this play highlighted that beautifully. I remember visiting libraries as a child and feeling the excitement of where a book would take me to. With modern technology I often worry my kids won’t experience that same anticipation. But, today, watching this play, I realized there is still so much more about a book, then a tablet or a phone can provide.

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As Polen put it, “I don’t think anything can compare with one’s imagination. There is a joy that is particular to reading books that you experience when you are immersed in a story and transported to a different world. I also think the benefit to interacting with an actual librarian is that they can respond to you as a human and guide you based on your interactions.”

Guevera mirrored her sentiment, “It’s healthy to have face to face interactions, especially as children. While the internet is an excellent source of information, there is so much a child can gain from developing creative and social skills.”

Oh, and…library books smell so good! 😉 – Tomás.

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