Before there was B Street Theatre, there was Fantasy Festival, a school tour that brought theatre to gymnasiums and community halls. Before there was our location on B Street, we only had a van full of actors. For 32 years our company has gone to different schools throughout Northern California and introduced thousands of children to the power of live theatre. This Saturday’s Fantasy Festival has a public at the Sofia. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill sat down with the cast: Elyse Sharp, Mikey Pollock, Nina Dramer, and Olivia Schaperjohn to discuss the tour and the reactions they’ve gotten.
How many weeks have you been on the road?
Elyse Sharp: 8 weeks!
How many kids have you performed for thus far?
Mikey Pollock: Over 20,000. We’ll get close to 40,000 by the end of the tour.
What’s your favorite play that’s in the tour?
Olivia Schaperjohn: The Oldridges, which tells the story of the meanest family that ever lived, and their optimistic son who attempts to teach them how to be kind. There’s a ton of interaction with the audience and the kids have an absolute blast talking back to these mean people. It’s so much fun.
Nina Dramer: Drop, Rock & Roll, which is about two kids, Derrick and Eric, (who are kind of Bill & Ted reinvented), and they are looking for guitars because they are obsessed with being rock legends. It’s the last play of the show and it’s always so much fun because I get to be a complete goof. It’s a ton of fun.
MP: (In a silly voice) My favorite is also Drop, Rock, & Roll cause it’s a righteous piece and I like playing guitar shop owner Billy, and I get to watch Nina and Olivia play dudes and dance their tales off and play guitar.
ES: Mine is a tie between Travel O’Matic 2000 and The Old Rat & the Cat. Travel O’Matic is about two nerds who get to travel the world in this really amazing travel machine and at the end of the piece they teach their strict principle that the meaning of life is to have fun. And also The Old Rat & the Cat, which is a cop and robber story about the greatest thief in the world who is a rat, and a cop cat who I play. The only word I say is “meow” but the kids absolutely love it. Animals onstage, who doesn’t love that.
Whats School Tour’s daily routine?
OS: I come in early in the morning and sleep in the van until we arrive at the first school.
ES: It always starts with coffee. We get here before the sun is up and we travel to schools within a two hour radius of Sacramento. Conway, our road manager, drives us all over northern California. We arrive at the school, we take out the entire set, all the props, all the costumes, and then we do the show (sometimes two). And after the show is done, we pack everything up, we put it back in the van, and sometimes we travel back home, and sometimes we go to another school and start the entire process over again.
ND: Sometimes I sleep too.
MP: You got a whole set-up in the back of the van.
ND: I got two pillows, a Johnny Depp blanket, and anytime I need too, I grab a snooze.
Why is it important to introduce theatre to kids?
MP: Well, when it’s a live show, it’s never the same show twice, and every kid gets their own specific experience. And afterwards they ask us questions about theatre and we’re able to break down the amount of effort it takes to put on a show like this.
OS: They get to have that human connection that comes from theatre, which is something movies can’t provide.
ND: Most of the creative world-building that kids see now-a-days comes from books or movies or television shows or video games. Theatre is a whole different experience because it’s live world-building. So they’re imaginations really take off. They get to experience creativity happening right in front of them and it opens up a lot of possibilities that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them.
ES: Especially with the cuts happening to arts education, theatre can become a rare experience for kids. So the fact that we’re able to bring professional theatre to kids and showing them that theatre is fun and engaging, it’s really beneficial for the Northern California area. And when we answer questions after the shows, a lot of time we tell about all the different jobs that are involved in the theatre world.
Why do you think the B Street School Tour is so good at what it does?
ES: B Street has been doing this for 32 years. We get what kids enjoy, we get their sense of humor. And so we make sure to produce tours that meet kids at their level. We don’t play down to them. We don’t treat them like babies. We create plays that they can connect to. It’s great children’s theatre.
What’s a particular response from the show that is memorable?
OS: The kids eat up Drop, Rock, & Roll. Anytime they see those guitars, they just absolutely lose it.
ES: There was a day, while we were preforming The Oldridges for an older group of kids (which is always scary), where Father Oldridge and Brother Oldridge have this heart to heart and there was the girl in the front row who started crying. And afterwards she came up to us and told us how touched she was by that story.
MP: Kids really respond well to The Oldridges. There was one kid that yelled out in the middle of the performance, “I get it! That’s how you’re not supposed to behave.” It was really cute.
ES: I also love during Travel O’Matic when Mikey points out to the audience and says, “You kids stop having fun!” And all the kids turn around as if there’s a kid having fun who shouldn’t be. It’s always great.
ND: Mine was actually today. During The Oldridges, I point out one of the kids and tell him, “I oughta steal your shoes and make you walk barefoot.” And the kid looked at his shoes, and said, “THESE?!” It was hysterical.
The public performance for Fantasy Festival XXXII will be this Saturday at 10:00 AM at the Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts. Come check out our fabulous school tour team. And for those teachers who love the B Street School Tour, check out our website for more educational theatre opportunities such as the Family Series.