This year, Olympia Family Theater is all about children's literature.
“Most of our shows in the past have come from children’s literature, obviously,” said Jen Ryle, the theater’s artistic director, “but all of the shows this year specifically come from a book that children have loved or love.”
The season kicks off tonight with “A Year With Frog and Toad,” a musical based on the popular books by Arnold Lobel. It also was the second show the company ever produced.
“It’s really exciting that they are doing it again,” said Josh Anderson, musical director for “Frog and Toad.” “They’ve grown so much. This gives them an opportunity to revisit where they came from and show how far they’ve come.”
“Alice in Wonderland,” the first show the company did, is returning this season as well.
The theater company is working with Timberland libraries to promote reading and literature. Ryle, managing director Samantha Chandler, and actors from the productions are visiting the libraries to read, sing and tell stories related to the productions.
“The libraries help promote us through their reading programs, and we in turn are bringing interactive elements to their programs,” Ryle said. “Not just in Olympia, Tumwater and Lacey, but in some of the outlying areas as well.
“ ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’ comes just after Family Read-Aloud Month,” she said. “We are hoping that families will read the book with the encouragement of the libraries and then come see it on stage.”
The change in focus has also meant a shift in the one-per-season issue-oriented play aimed at older children and teens. This year, the play that skews just a little older is “Little Women” (Dec. 10-26).
“There are a lot of issues around female roles,” Ryle said. “There were things these girls were expected to do and things they wanted to do, and society told them ‘no’ in some cases. We wanted to select something that children were reading. We wanted it to appeal to a little bit older crowd, but not too old. If we go too far in the direction of middle school or high school, it’s really the parents who are coming to see it. It’s hard to get those kids in the theater.”
In the future, she said, the company would like to bring theater for older children and teens into the schools.
This season will be the company’s first held downtown, in the Black Box at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts. The last two seasons have been at the Minnaert Center for the Arts at South Puget Sound Community College.
“There is more audience space,” Ryle said of the Washington Center. “Rather than 90, which was the maximum at the college, we can fit 120 downtown.”
The one exception: “Little Women,” which will still be held at the college. “That’s the holiday show, and ‘The Nutcracker’ takes over that entire space then,” she said.
“We’re really excited to be downtown,” she said. “We’ve wanted to be there. It makes us more visible, and we hope to reach more kids.
“We’re creating the theatergoers of tomorrow.”