The Ohio State University at Lima

Adapting for young audiences

Theatre for Young Audiences brings live theatre to K-4

When Dr. Maria Ignatieva arrived at the Lima campus in the 1994, she was shocked at the lack of children’s exposure to the art of theatre. The Theatre for Young Audiences program began to take shape and in 1995, debuted with a production of The Little Prince in Our Classroom, an adaption of the much beloved children’s story The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery.

While The Little Prince was a favorite story from her childhood, Ignatieva discovered it wasn’t the best choice for K-4 students. It was too philosophical and too sad. She tried again in what she thought would be a three-year project, at most.

Now into its third decade, the Ohio State Lima Theatre for Young Audiences has presented 23 plays designed specifically for the K-4 set. Now a professor in the theatre department, Ignatieva has written or adapted 13 of them. She has become much more comfortable with the process.

Adapting the stories into successful plays has called for the ability to adapt to the situation and the audience. When Ignatieva was looking at the story of Europe’s much loved Baron Munchhausen, all the humor from the original did not translate to current audiences. She carefully chose the elements that would resonate with 21st century children in the United States.

“From the whole book of stories, I needed to find at least several that could be adjusted and interpreted so our children understood them, finding them funny and educational at the same time,” Ignatieva said. “That was the most difficult part. I found five tales that could be adjusted, but I needed to edit even them quite substantially.”

Ignatieva’s source materials range from short stories and novels, to other plays, ballets, and folklore. The stories based on folklore have a wide range of opportunity for the theatre department.

“One of the reasons I have written or adapted the script myself is that I would love for our Ohio State students to work on the original text, which, if necessary, they can edit, cut, add or adjust, unlike in the ready-made script,” Ignatieva said. “I believe that working with a fresh, live script makes students and their director the co-authors of the production in a greater sense than when we work on the previously published play.”

Before children come and make their great discoveries in the theatre, Ignatieva’s students also have their discoveries.

“It is also the best way to check the text,” she said of writing a play versus a set script. “If something doesn’t work, you have the right to fix it right there. Thus, our students have the entire experience: from contributing to the script, to rehearsing and creating movement and blocking, and then to learning the technical aspects of theatre. It is homemade, and in that I see the uniqueness of this experience for children and for students alike, who are creating the productions.”

With The Amazing Adventures of Baron M, Ignatieva has taken audience interaction one step further, compared to her previous productions.

“Baron M is about how to make theatre,” she said. “The Baron and his niece Lilly are creating five stories – they are travelling from Poland to the Adriatic Sea and to Africa – all with the help of the audience. Baron M shows children how the sound operators produce sounds; lighting crew— colorful lights; stage crew – changes on the stage. We are trying to create a model for the children of how to make and act out their own plays in the future, at home or at school.”

Children’s participation, their laughter and screams, are the best proofs that they understand the story and will gradually develop a lifelong love and appreciation for live theatre.

Ohio State Lima's Department of Theatre presented the public performances of the 2017 production of Theatre for Young Audiences, The Amazing Adventures of Baron M, Nov. 4-5, 2017, in the Martha W. Farmer Theatre for the Performing Arts. In addition, more than 1,600 K-4 students attended the school performances.

Photo: Jill Evers of Maria Stein and the rest of the cast of The Amazing Adventures of Baron M greet young audience members after a school performance at Ohio State Lima. More than 1,600 K-4 students will attend the show during its Autumn Semester 2017 run. Photo credit: Pam Joseph

Choosing the right story

Dr. Ignatieva has some advice for budding playwrights for young audiences.
• The story must be very intriguing to hold the interest of young people.
• The story should include a journey, whether physical or metaphorical.
• The story should be about the characters’ discovery of the world, and with them the audience’s discovery.
• The story has to be optimistic and inspiring.
• The audience should be able to interact with the characters and the play.
• Strong visual elements are a must.