Rob DePaolo (COL ’16), left, Chris Wolpe (MSB ’19), Nick Shedd (SFS ’18), Nico Barnaba (COL ’19) and Deniz Yuksel (SFS ’19) in “Bling Mida$,” GU Children’s Theater’s fall show.
Rob DePaolo (COL ’16), left, Chris Wolpe (MSB ’19), Nick Shedd (SFS ’18), Nico Barnaba (COL ’19) and Deniz Yuksel (SFS ’19) in “Bling Mida$,” GU Children’s Theater’s fall show.

The atmosphere is quiet in the New North Building’s McNeir Auditorium. The house lights are on; the piano typically used by Georgetown University’s chamber choir is covered and pushed against a wall; and the stage is set by a single chair and a 5-foot wooden backdrop painted with vines and marble columns. The audience, sitting in front of this makeshift scene, is unusually tame. The calm is quite surprising because half of the audience members are children, aged 10 and under. The decked out stage, the lights and the actors decked in togas, fur coats and tiaras are set for the Friday, Oct. 23 campus preview of the Georgetown University Children’s Theater’s Fall Show, “Bling Mida$.”

Children’s Theater is made up of a core group of 10-15 undergraduate students who direct and perform original or adapted pieces of theater written for children once every Friday at neighboring elementary schools and family centers.

“We bring theater to children in the D.C. community who normally don’t get to experience it,” Children’s Theater treasurer, Taylor Oster (SFS ’17), the group’s current treasurer, said. “Whether they may be children stuck in their beds in hospitals or underprivileged children in after school programs or at community centers, we go to them so they can experience what theater is like.”

Children’s Theater is 20 years old this year, the same age as the Georgetown Improv Association, from which Children’s Theater split in 2010. The two groups were initially grouped into a single theater group called the Georgetown Players. Since then, Children’s Theater has produced and performed a show every semester. This fall’s “Bling Mida$” follows the Greek mythical king of approximately the same name, who possessed a magic golden touch.

The group’s members often see themselves as performing on a different plane than other Georgetown theater groups because of their markedly different audience.

“You definitely need to change the way that you carry yourself on stage to target more to a younger audience,” Chris Wolpe (MSB ’19), this fall season’s Bling Mida$, said. “For young kids, physical humor trumps all: Someone could tell an incredibly funny joke and be greeted by dead silence. Meanwhile, if someone gets slapped in the face, kids are rolling on the floor laughing hysterically. So yes, animation has to be cranked up to 10.”

Actors engage in interactive games and activities with the children to keep them interested in the action.

“Since our show is interactive, the actors have to engage with the kids through questions and answers both during and after the show,” producer, Sarika Ramaswamy (SFS ’18), said. “They have to stay in character and be funny all the while following a 7-year-old’s train of thought. It can be hard. But it’s great comedic practice.”

Even so, Children’s Theater typically throws a few jokes over their intended audience’s heads.

“We keep our shows short so that kids don’t have to sit still for too long, but we reference things like ‘Hotline Bling’ so that adults enjoy it too,” Children’s Theater President Caitlin Snell (COL ’16) said.

The group, whose previous shows have included student-written adaptations of “The Wizard of Oz” and “Goldilocks,” maintains a core group of actors, producers, a director and executive board members for each semester’s show, but is comprised of around 30 members in total. Members fulfill a variety of roles, often going from actor to director to board member as the semesters go on.

“When I was in the play last spring, one of our actors was in a frat; one was the current president of International Relations Club; one was a part-time senior,” Ramaswamy said. “People usually think of theater groups as very insular, often made up of English majors, but Children’s Theater draws a very diverse crowd. Especially for a freshman, it was nice to meet people from different circles instead of getting trapped in one.”

In addition to performing shows, the group looks to organize a series of theater-oriented workshops, from acting to set design to costumes, for D.C. children. Its first occurred last Friday.

“Rather than just being the audience, they get to learn what it means to be a part of the theater,” Amalia Martinez (MSB ’16), the group’s outreach coordinator,  said.

At the end of the day, however, Children’s Theater tries not to take itself too seriously, perhaps taking a leaf out of its audience’s book.

“We’re not so worried about getting our blocking perfect every single time or using light and special effects to convey the director’s artistic vision,” Snell said. “We focus on creating a fun and engaging experience, and we have a ton of fun doing it.”

“One of the greatest things that I remember experiencing was in my freshman year at one of the after-school programs. We did the show for some second and third graders who really understood it and really get into it, which was amazing,” Oster said. “I remember them coming up after the show and playing with my dress and the beads I was wearing and wanting hugs. … I felt so blessed to be able to partake in that.”

The group’s first-ever performance of “Bling Mida$” clocked in last Friday at 40 minutes, after which the cast invited questions from the audience on stage, typical of all of their performances. Despite the audience’s initial, palpable silence, one newly initiated theater-goer raised his hand.

“What are your real names?” he asked.

The actors, who had only minutes ago danced, shouted, formed a conga line on stage and clucked together like chickens early on in the show, laughed nervously.

“Chris,” Bling Mida$ said, in his grandmother’s fur coat and plastic tiara. Sam O’Neal, the wisecracking satyr in the bowler hat introduced himself as Nicholas Barnaba (COL ’19). Thalia, the vengeful and high-maintenance diva, became Deniz Yuksel ( SFS ’19). Arion, the toga-and laurel-crown-clad servant and narrator, revealed himself as Rob DePaolo (COL ’16) (full disclosure: DePaolo is a contributing editor for The Hoya).

“Can you come to my school?” the elementary school-age boy asked again, eliciting more laughs.
Snell, sitting in front of him, turned to him with a wink.

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