Nothing is more exciting than seeing children’s eyes light up when they first experience live theater.
From Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Aurora Theatre Company, to Berkeley Playhouse and Cal Performances, Berkeley is home to vibrant theatre of all kinds. Parents are fortunate to be able to introduce their kids to live theatre at an early age. A number of teachers in the Berkeley schools even take their students on annual pilgrimages to Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. So it is hard to imagine that just “across town” in the some of the East Bay’s neighboring communities, entire generations of children have been growing up without ever seeing a live theatre production. With no access to classes in acting, music, dance, or storytelling, these students have never been exposed to live performances that could stir their imaginations or inspire their own creative talents.
East Bay Children’s Theatre (EBCT), an all-volunteer run, non-profit organization has been trying to change all of that. Founded in 1933, EBCT has been bringing musical theatre to children for nearly a century. Each year, the company commissions Ron Lytle, an award-winning creative director/ playwright/composer, to create his own Broadway-caliber scores, hilarious scripts, and positive messages for children in the East Bay’s economically disadvantaged communities.
This year, Lytle has created the musical Aladdin and the Lamp, based on the timeless Arabian Nights tale. This year’s cast has committed to the demanding trouping schedule that includes bringing live theatre performances to thousands of children at 11 elementary schools in low-income neighborhoods—and giving four public performances in Berkeley and Oakland.
In September, when I first heard about East Bay Children’s Theatre (EBCT) and its mission to introduce underprivileged children to the theatre, the organization’s raison d’être resonated with me at multiple levels. First, I am a passionate supporter of an arts education for ALL kids, specifically because of the wonder and dreams that are kindled in children who are exposed to live theatre at an early age. And when my own determination coupled with a stroke of luck enabled me to be cast in the ensemble (chorus) of this year’s production of Aladdin and the Lamp , I began to experience first-hand the pleasure of making a difference in children’s lives.
Hearing the laughter and applause of the children when I am on stage fills me with both joy and pride in the value of our efforts. After a performance last week, one little boy dashed in and told our director, “Thank you for the wonderful MOVIE!” Because they have been deprived of previous arts experiences, these children do not even have the vocabulary to talk about live theatre.
When I was a young girl growing up in Chicago, my parents took me to see whatever new play or musical came to town, and I was swept away by dreams of becoming an actress. I would stand for hours in front of a full-length mirror singing to myself, often parading around in dramatic costumes and makeup, and even creating a little theatre in the basement of our home where I coached neighbor children to join me in performing my homegrown “plays” for our parents. My own children carried on the tradition of home theatre performances for family and friends.
I want to give these deserving East Bay children the kind of experiences that I myself loved as a child. If you share my desire to light up a needy child’s life with the magic of theatre, I urge you to take your own children or grandchildren to see Ron Lytle’s “in-GENIE-ous” production of Aladdin and the Lamp when it is staged at the JCC East Bay on March 13th (1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.), or at the Orinda Library Auditorium on March 20th (1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.). The performances will raise funds to help EBCT bring performances to children in economically disadvantaged communities. Tickets to ALADDIN are $12 – $15 and can be purchased through the company’s website: www.ebctonline.org.
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