Fresno State’s Experimental Theatre for Young Audiences starts Spring 2014 tour of ‘ The Velveteen Rabbit’
By Royce Dunn
Special To The Collegian
The classic dream of a stuffed toy rabbit becoming real was brought to life Saturday when Fresno State’s Experimental Theatre for Young Audiences premiered its Spring 2014 tour of “The Velveteen Rabbit.”
Director J. Daniel Herring who teaches children’s theatre and theatre education at Fresno State said “The Velveteen Rabbit” is a classic children’s novel that even adults enjoy.
“It’s really a beloved story for lots of adults and children really and so I wanted to bring it back,” Herring said.
The tale of “The Velveteen Rabbit” is one of love, companionship and imagination.
A young boy, Thomas, receives a stuffed rabbit for Christmas and loves it unconditionally, treating it as if it was actually alive.
Even though the rabbit becomes shabbier as times goes on, Thomas refuses to let it go. It is only when the rabbit must be burned due to contamination that Thomas must let the rabbit go.
Thomas sees the velveteen rabbit later, not as a toy but as a real rabbit after a fairy transformed it to escape its fiery fate. This element of change and acceptance is what audiences find so appealing about this play.
Aubrianne Scott, who plays Thomas, said the play’s message is a common theme adults can relate to. By letting go of childhood toys that will always hold sentimental value it allows for good memories to remain intact.
“To appreciate things while they are there, to hold onto memories that are there,” Scott said. “You grow up and things move on but you still have the memories, the good old memories of what used to be.”
Not only was it this relatable message that captured the audience but also the experience of the theatre. Something novel the Theatre for Young Audiences wanted to do was allow children and their parents an opportunity to participate in the story.
“If I do a participation play the moments have to mean something to the storyline of the show,” Herring said.
Games of “Simon Says,” sing along and well-wishing for Thomas to get better after contracting scarlet fever had both young and old audience members participating in the theatre experience. The participation aspects of the production are what allowed the audience to empathize with Thomas.
Herring said he wanted to make this experience as memorable as possible for the audience.
“You never know with the Theatre for Young Audiences show how many of those children in the audience and sometimes there are parents, it could be their very first theatre experience and you want it to be meaningful,” Herring said.
Seeking to provide a great experience, the cast and crew worked towards a unique performance and look. Wanting to emulate the style of a children’s storybook brought to life, the set and design played with imaginative realism.
“It worked really well with the concept of the show because the show really plays with what’s not real. You have the set and it’s one thing and it completely turns around and it’s something completely different,” said scene designer Mitchell Lam Hau.
Hau worked closely with Diana Rubio the costume designer, on the visuals of surrealism, which also went into the sandwich board-like costumes and movable walls with reversible designs to trigger the viewer’s imagination.
“It was really fun to do a children’s play because you get to play around with things more than you can with serious plays,” Rubio said. “I really liked the children’s reactions, it was my first time seeing their reaction.”
The Theatre for Young Audiences is a travelling performance and although there were only two opportunities to see it on Fresno State’s campus, there will be other shows throughout the Central Valley, as it will continue to run throughout the Spring semester at local elementary schools.
For more information, visit the Fresno State Theatre Department website at http://www.fresnostate.edu/artshum/theatrearts/performances/young-audiences/.