By Marilyn Delk
Darke County Center for the Arts’ mission to encourage cultural enrichment means not only presenting outstanding musicians and vocalists to entertain and inspire audiences of all ages, but also brings theatrical productions to Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall to deliver the joy and wonder of theatre to our artistically underserved community. DCCA’s recently concluded season of presentations, designed to bring audiences back to gathering together to enjoy artistic presentations of all kinds included a delightful Family Theatre Series that charmed and entertained children and their parents, grandparents, and neighbors of all ages.
The series opened on Sunday, Dec. 11 withVirginia Rep’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, an entertaining musical inspired by Clement Moore’s poem A Visit from St. Nicholas. The play, based on the real life of the holiday classic’s author, takes place in 1822 and features the characters and events of the beloved tale—a jolly Santa, reindeer prancing on the roof, Ma and Pa in their caps, and sugarplums dancing in the dreams of hopeful children—while also telling of the author’s struggle to write his annual Christmas poem. Of course, as the beleaguered Moore ultimately takes inspiration from the joyous images he sees all around him to lovingly explore the spirit of the season, everyone lives happily ever after.
Acclaimed Tutti Frutti Theatre Company, based in Leeds, United Kingdom, brought their joyful, timeless production of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic The Ugly Duckling to Memorial Hall on Sunday, Feb. 19. The play opens at the edge of a pond where Mother Duck and her adorable offspring eagerly await the arrival of a new family member; however, the grey and gangly creature who finally hatches out of an enormous egg looks nothing like his fluffy yellow “siblings,” who trick him into leaving his loving mother and the nest. As the action moves through the seasons, our hero, dubbed “Ugly” by those supposed siblings, moves from scene to scene, encountering a menagerie of mischievous animals who ultimately contribute to the bird’s discovery of his true identity as a beautiful swan, providing a happy ending for all concerned.
DCCA closed its 2022-2023 Family Theatre Series season at St. Clair Memorial Hall on Sunday, March 22 with Llama, Llama Live!, a musical from Bay Area Children’s Theatre inspired by Anna Dewedney’s bestselling Llama, Llama series of picture books. These books address the everyday issues of young children, telling with humor and compassion the story of a little llama going through the scary moments that everyone faces while growing up. This musical version expressing the trauma of a child’s imaginary and real fears charmed very young children as well as accompanying adults, but I cannot end this summary with a reference to everyone living happily ever after. A few weeks ago, Bay Area Children’s Theatre, whose award-winning productions had reached audiences across the nation, ceased operations!
Like many arts organizations, BACT faced challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, creating problems that eventually led to insurmountable financial burdens for the award-winning non-profit. This is not the first outstanding touring theatre company that has graced the stage at St. Clair Memorial Hall to meet such a sad fate; in addition to failures compelled by the recent pandemic, a New York City theatre company located near the World Trade Center who in 2001 brought their amazing production of Wizard of Oz to our community sadly had to cease operations following the Sept. 11 attacks.
A play has the ability to jump a story off the page, springing it to life before one’s eyes, ultimately becoming a source of inspiration and wonder. Exposure to theatre benefits children of all socio-economic levels; research has shown that the arts help build strong families by offering shared positive experiences that encourage the expression and exchange of ideas, an asset ultimately benefitting communities and the nation. DCCA’s 2022-2023 Family Theatre Series was full of fun, but provided more than mere entertainment; we can look forward to more such enriching opportunity in the future, but unfortunately, not all providers of these benefits live happily ever after.