Capturing a child’s imagination

Willa Tales, left, played by Lori Chakin, talks about the

GILROY
– Shuffling into Gavilan College Theatre, more than 400
elementary school kids were doing just as expected – making
noise.
The kids rocked back and forth in the theater’s squeaky chairs,
bounced around and chatted with friends and, of course, yelled in
the dark room. But as the show began, the kids were silenced
– in awe of what was happening on stage.
GILROY – Shuffling into Gavilan College Theatre, more than 400 elementary school kids were doing just as expected – making noise.

The kids rocked back and forth in the theater’s squeaky chairs, bounced around and chatted with friends and, of course, yelled in the dark room. But as the show began, the kids were silenced – in awe of what was happening on stage.

And so began, for most of these students, their first experience with the theater.

“For the students who come, it usually will be their first theater experience,” said Julianne Palma, director of “Fishtales,” Gavilan College’s fall children’s show. “Hopefully, we’re building theater-goers for years to come.”

At the start of the play, a cast member taught the children some of the rules of theater etiquette: No talking, no chewing gum and, as funny as the youngsters thought it was, no cell phones.

The kids practiced their etiquette as the show went on, but they couldn’t help but yell “eew” every time characters Mr. Burns and Ms. Alene would kiss on stage.

Produced by Marilyn Abad-Cardinalli, the head of Gavilan’s theatre arts program, the show is about a theater company trying to come up with an idea for a play about fish. The 15 cast members are Gavilan theatre students from Gilroy, Morgan Hill and Hollister. As the actors discuss ideas for the play, their stories are acted out, weaving together three fish stories from different cultures.

“They explore the realm of wishes and desires and their unexpected results,” Palma said.

The first story, about a fisherman and his wife, is a German story teaching the effects of greed. When the fisherman catches a magical fish, his wife wants more and more riches and power and keeps sending her husband back out to the sea to ask the fish for more until the fish takes it all away again.

The second story, from Arabia, is about a fisherman and a genie. When the fisherman, who dreams of great riches to better his life, accidentally releases an angry genie from a lantern he caught in his net, he is threatened with his life. He outwits the genie and locks him back in his cage and learns he is happy with what he has. Starring in this story is a 16-foot genie puppet.

“They’re mesmerized (by it),” Palma said.

The third story, a tale from Burma of a fisherman and a gatekeeper, shows a fisherman outsmarting a dishonest gatekeeper, who had been lying to the king. The fisherman then is rewarded by the king.

As the tales unfold before the children’s eyes, they are learning much more than the simple morals to each story.

“The arts are very important when it comes to education,” Palma said. “They’re getting experience with the theater, different cultures … They’re getting experience with thinking.”

Teachers are given a packet with activities for the kids to do to intertwine the play with curriculum in the classroom. There also is a short story writing contest for students who see the play.

At the end of the play, a few kids even become a part of the show when the actors bring them up on stage to do the funky chicken.

“The kids leave the theater happy and delighted,” Palma said.

Gavilan hosts the children’s theater repertory every fall, doing 14 shows for students from as far away as San Jose through December. Also there are two family performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Gavilan College Theatre.

“We usually have sold-out houses,” Palma said.

Tickets for the show are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors, students and children. There is a special $20 family rate for parents with two or more children.

Palma said the family shows are one of the most important parts of doing the production each year.

“With the events of last year, it’s really drawing awareness to the fact that we need to come together as families,” she said. “We wanted a family event that families could afford to attend.”

‘Fishtales’

When: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Gavilan College Theatre, 5055 Santa Theresa Blvd.

How much: Tickets are $7 to $10.

Details: Contact Julianne Palma at (408) 848-4717 or (831) 637-1236.

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