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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 84, Number 4 (May 1983)

Wolff, Barbara
Dandelion goes to the Kennedy Center,   pp. 24-[25]


Page 24


One of the most rewarding oc-
currences in this life comes when
our best efforts are recognized
and cheered. And, of course, the
wider the scope of the applause
the better we're bound to feel.
Such a thing has happened to the
UW Children's Theatre. Its pro-
duction of Judith Martin's Dan-
delion was chosen for presenta-
tion at the Kennedy Center's
"Imagination Celebration", in
Washington D.C. in late March.
Nine students from the theatre-
and-drama department went
east to perform the play in this
annual festival dedicated to in-
troducing young people to the
arts.
"It wasn't that we won some
kind of contest," said Dandelion
director John Tolch. "The Ken-
nedy Center conducted a nation-
wide screening and we were one
of four schools chosen to come
out." Also in that rarefied circle
were the University of North
Carolina, Brigham Young Uni-
versity, and Arizona State Un-
iversity at Tempe.
Dandelion puts the world in con-
text for grades K-4 through a se-
ries of vignettes explaining nat-
ure's ways. Each cast member is
assigned several characters,
from tadpoles to cave creatures.
"Our cast was not overtly se-
lected for this production,"
Tolch says. "David Miller,
Cindy Rosten, Lisa Hughes,
Dawn Roe, Marie Woods, Eve-
linn (Thl~nn_ Nincy lewv (Cnr-o-
..... ......  ,  ...... j v  C aro-..
lynn Peters and Patrick Short all
just happened to sign up for a course last fall." The UW presenta-
tion of Dandelion retains the spirit of the original, created by New
York City's Paper Bag Players in 1968. The mood is improvisa-
tional, including the use of paper, cardboard and simple drawings
for some of the scenery, costumes and props.
   But Tolch says the real secret of Dandelion's success is the fact
that it proves a challenge for both audience and cast. "First of all
there are the ideas in it," he says. "It doesn't preach. But it
does
contain many messages about how we live in society, how we
grow, change, communicate. It's a collection of concepts, without
pat conclusions."
   Tolch ventures that this virtue of the play bridges two impor-
tant influences in children's theater today. "One current trend is
entertainment for its own sake, as in mime and magic shows.
While I don't think there's anything wrong with that, it is not chil-
dren's theater. Kids need to learn dramatic and literary structure.
They need to get a feel for resolution. Now, while Dandelion of-
fers no resolution, it is more
than just a pleasant way to pass
an hour or so. And that might
establish it as the essence of the
children's theater movement,"
which is rapidly expanding. And
Tolch says the UW is in the van-
guard among Big Ten schools.
"More and more profes-
sionals-parents and teachers
alike-are getting interested.
It's a relatively new phenome-
non, just in the 20th century,
just-really-since the Second
World War. It's growing so fast
because there's obviously a so-
cial need for it."
He posits that this need stems
from our longing for life mod-
els. "I think children's theater
should present the most impor-
tant aspects of living, emotion-
ally and intellectually. It
shouldn't be mundane; it should
develop significant themes."
But then what's the difference
between children's and adults'
drama? "Children aren't little
adults," Tolch says. "I think
their theater should be better
because they require more."
And part of what children need
now is a handle on contempo-
rary issues. "Death, steppar-
ents, other relationships: we're
seeing surprisingly sophisticated
topics for kids. Take violence,
for example. Good children's
literature doesn't stop with
saying that violence exists-
everybody, even a very tiny
child, knows it does. The em-
phasis should be on how to deal
with it. And the craving for that sort of guide is international."
   And Tolch should know. He's a veteran of children's theater
congresses in this country, in Spain, France and Yugoslavia. He
is a graduate of Ohio State and has studied the subject in Europe
from London to Leningrad. His production of Dandelion is the
most current manifestation of a keen and lifelong interest. His
work here has been cited for excellence by the Children's The-
atre Association of America and the Wisconsin Theatre Associ-
ation. Tolch is also the editor of Children's Theatre Review, the
only scholarly publication in the country exclusively dedicated
to the subject.
   "What drew me to children's theater?" Tolch reflects a mo-
ment. "I think it's the most exciting form of theater going right
now. For example, our original production of Dandelion was
part of a package deal for some 2500 people in south-central
Wisconsin. They were bussed in for the show and then given
tours of the University Theater and the Elvehjem Museum. It
became a regular 'arts day.' I think it was a successful experi-
ment, and we're looking forward to doing it again next fall." ED
24 / THE WISCONSIN ALUMNUS
Barbara Wolff is on the staff of WHA -Radio.


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