Whatever comes to mind with the words "children's theatre," it's likely something Jim Jackson would like an opportunity to defy. Unless, perhaps, your performance is informed by time spent onstage in Canadian children's theatres, as Jackson has. Maybe Europe's, or Australia's? Yeah, he did that, too.
"Children's theatre often has a bad reputation in the States," says Jackson, one of Millibo Art Theatre's two directors. (The other is his wife, locally lauded performer Birgitta de Pree.)
That's a good reason to let Jackson and the crew at Millibo demystify its unique stagecraft for you.
For one, don't expect to see many children onstage during such performances, which account for about half the shows in the 2015-2016 season.
While the occasional munchkin may make an appearance, most of the cast are professional adult actors. And they aren't about to compromise their art for the kinds of laughs certain animated children's movies attempt to elicit with easy, often cheesy, punchlines.
"We follow the dictate, 'Never doing anything [onstage] that we wouldn't want to see performed ourselves," Jackson says.
Along with the dialogue, he says staging is another way Millibo's brand of children's theatre appeals to kids and adults simultaneously. Such skills (or tricks) are better seen than read about. Which is another reason to let Jackson and Millibo re-calibrate your expectations.
Audiences currently have that opportunity with Mr. Guffaw's Christmas Adventure, which Jackson co-wrote.
It's also a chance to see Give! campaign dollars at work. In its 14 seasons of existence, Millibo has been selected to participate in Give! since the inaugural campaign launched six years ago. At press time, Jackson and crew were $6,520 toward their $24,500 goal for the 2015 campaign.
Jackson says the dollars raised from Give! will support the Kids First series of performances that include the current Christmas Adventure, as well as other youth-based programming and outreach Millibo does throughout the year.
Among those efforts is the ongoing Circus Club, where kids age 9 to 14 explore various types of circus skills — such as trapeze and acrobatics work — with professional trainers, including Jackson. It's a natural extension of Millibo's "adult" shows, which are known for their physical comedy.
Millibo is once again pushing those boundaries with its other holiday show, A Tuna Christmas, a licensed script that sees locals Sammie Joe Kinnett and Sammy Gleason dress for 20 characters in a single production.
Regardless of where you land with children's theatre, it isn't a stretch to say Give! donations to Millibo are raising the next generation of theatre lovers — to grace the stage and fill the seats.
The 2015 Give! Campaign features 88 area nonprofits. To learn more, volunteer or donate, visit indygive.com before midnight on Dec. 31.
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