Jack & the Beanstalk: The Challenges of Children’s Theater

Union's theatre department presents the children's show Jack and the Beanstalk
Students from the theatre department presented the children's show, Jack and the Beanstalk, to local students

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a children’s show. Growing up in Franklin, I went to three or four shows a year at Nashville Children’s Theater with a local homeschool group. I remember my favorite part of these trips was eating lunch at Chik-Fil-A with friends afterwards. Seeing Union’s Theater Department put on “Jack and the Beanstalk” in the chapel brought back a lot of these memories, and showed me two new perspectives on children’s theater: the importance of audience participation, and the moral lessons present in the play.

The show opens with a sort of contest between two salesmen, one who wants to peddle Bok Choy, and one who is selling chocolate. The two villagers are selling their wares, and bring in the audience.

“Who wants Bok Choy?” asked the villager, played by sophomore theater major Nicole Snover. Six or seven hands went up in the audience.

“Who wants chocolate?” asked the other villager, played by sophomore English major Grant Weingart. Nearly every hand went up, including several exhausted college students.

The incorporation of audience participation was a constant part of the show, and ranged from the kids trying to warn the hero that the villain was nearby, helping the hero find the villain, and even “oohing” and “ahing” at the beanstalk, or the giant.

“You basically have to be a cartoon character,” said Susannah Murphine, freshman history major and one of the talented actresses in the play. “You have to be over the top and animated, which for some of us – especially when we’re tired – can be really difficult.”

This is all a part of audience participation, as the performers need to be able to connect to the audience members.

“Kids and college students laugh at completely different things,” freshman theater major Mary Grace Slonecker said, “so finding out what their humor is was a little challenging.”

Despite this obstacle, the actors and actresses, as well as assistant professor of theater John Klonowski, met the challenge well, as was demonstrated through the nearly constant laughter of the kids.

Outside of the audience participation, the other big thing that struck me was the teaching aspect of the play. Throughout the play, there were different lines or situations which taught the children that stealing was wrong or friendship was important. The themes of reconciliation and forgiveness ran throughout the whole play and gave it meaning outside of the general plot. Although it was heavy-handed in some parts (this was a children’s show, after all), I thought that the moral aspect was well-handled and incorporated.

Overall, Klonowski and the theater department did a fantastic job in Jack and the Beanstalk. They were able to bring in local youth, teach them moral lessons, and keep them entertained for fifty minutes.