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Asolo Rep courts parents and kids for a day at the theater

The new PlayDate program introduces workshops tied to performances for children and their parents.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. December 10, 2022
Asolo Rep Teaching Artist Imani Williams casts spells with summer camp students during Enchantment week.
Asolo Rep Teaching Artist Imani Williams casts spells with summer camp students during Enchantment week.
Photo courtesy of Asolo Rep.
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Sure, you can bring a date to the theater. 

And now you can even bring your kids.

That’s the equation behind the PlayDate program at Asolo Repertory Theatre, which offers dramatic workshops for kids between the ages of 5 and 12 while their parents see a play.

The program, which was first offered during a pair of "Cabaret" performances in December, will be offered at six more Asolo Rep productions running through June.

“We have an incredible amount of fascinating humans of all ages and all backgrounds here in Sarasota,” says Sara Brunow, the Asolo’s education and engagement director. 

“We want to make sure that we are really reaching out to our community, and that we are a place where people feel comfortable and confident. There are new generations of theatergoers that we want to make sure we're cultivating;  It's good for our community and our area having the arts accessible to all people. And it's also good for the future of citizenship.”

PlayDate is a natural evolution of the Asolo's educational and summer camp initiatives, and Brunow says theatre can be a profound educational tool for a lot of children in that it encourages literacy, communication skills and creative problem-solving. 

But the challenge for Asolo Rep in crafting the PlayDate program was in keeping it tied thematically to the show and also age-appropriate for the kids involved.

For some of these shows, that’s easier than others. 

Take "Cabaret," which features scantily clad dancers cavorting in the Kit Kat Club in their final moments of freedom before the collapse of Germany’s Weimar Republic.

How do you make that real for children without making it disturbing? 

Brunow says the "Cabaret" workshop focused on the theme "Life is Beautiful," and it encouraged kids to think about what beauty means and how we find it in the world. The hope, says Brunow, is that parents and children will have a profound chat on the car ride home.

“We'll be creating stories and making art and making our bodies into different characters and different shapes,” she says. “Afterwards, what we'll be giving to the parents — if they want it — is a set of questions that lead to both [the play] and the workshop itself.”

Asolo Rep Teaching Artist Erin O’Connor shares a story with students during a Drama Days pop-up camp following Hurricane Ian.
Photo courtesy of Asolo Rep

Each of the workshops is led by an administrator and an Asolo Rep teaching artist, and Brunow says there’s never more than 12 kids to any pair of instructors. Many of the teaching artists are Florida State University graduate students with backgrounds in the arts, and their toughest task is in keeping the kids entertained and interested for the entire length of a two-act play. Brunow says they use storybooks as an introductory point for a lot of the lessons they’re teaching, and they make sure to teach in bite-sized chunks.

They’ll talk about theater, for instance, and what that means in the world. Then they’ll get the kids into moving their bodies and being active. And then they’ll sit them down and get them into doing something creative. But all along the way, they’re keeping an eye on the kids and their interest level.

“With adults, you lose them to their phone. With kids, if you lose them, it's usually because of behaviors based on need,” says Brunow. “They're usually like, ‘I need to move my body or I need to focus in another direction. Or something was said and now I'm feeling this way.’ We have our focus and our learning objective, but we also are very much paying attention to the young people in the room and making sure that we are using all our tools.”


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