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Theatre for Young Audiences to present 'The Arkansaw Bear' to public and local area schools

April 11, 2012

Editor's note: UW-Eau Claire's Theatre for Young Audiences will present "The Arkansaw Bear" to children at several schools in western and central Wisconsin during April and early May. The school performances are not open to the public but media are welcome with permission from the individual schools. Reporters and editors can contact James Zwicky at zwickyja@uwec.eduor Kevin Gawley at gawleykd@uwec.edufor a schedule of the times, dates and locations of the school performances or with other questions.

EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Theatre for Young Audiences will present "The Arkansaw Bear" during 1:30 p.m. matinees April 14-15 in Riverside Theatre of the Haas Fine Arts Center.

In addition to the campus performances, the play also will be performed at elementary schools in western and central Wisconsin through May 10. Performances are planned for schools in Bloomer, Downsville, Eau Claire, Owen-Withee, Colfax, Arcadia and Merrill.

"The Arkansaw Bear," by Aurand Harris, won the best play award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education in 1980. A serious play, it also contains messages of hope and joy for young audiences.

The play tells the story of a young bear named Tish, who is saddened and confused by her grandfather's approaching death. She runs to her special tree for solace, and, after wishing on a star, she meets the world's greatest dancing bear in a fantasy land. The old bear, reminiscent of Tish's grandfather, also is running away from death. In helping him, Tish begins to understand the meaning of life and death, which helps her cope with her own sadness.

"I think kids will enjoy seeing this show because it respects that being a kid is hard; and it shows how kids are capable of feeling things in a complicated way," said Dr. Jennifer Chapman, assistant professor of theatre arts. "Even though the main character is sad and a little scared of her grandfather's death, she figures out how to choose joy as a way of honoring him in life."

The play blends realism and fantasy, pathos and humor. Its mix of theater, music, magic and dance has entertained children and families for more than 30 years.

The play, which runs for about 50 minutes and is followed by a 10-minute question-and-answer session, is best suited for children in grades 3-6, though some schools will include grades 7 and 8 in the audience.

On tour, students in the Theatre for Young Audiences perform in school gymnasiums, bringing their own lighting and sound equipment. Student members seat the audience in a circle around them in what is called arena or theatre-in-the-round seating. There are usually 250 children in the circle.

UW-Eau Claire student actors in the upcoming performances are junior Jake Brockmann, Green Bay, as Bear; senior Siri Brobst, Rochester, Minn., as Star Bright; senior Katie Gerarden, De Pere, as Mime; senior Scott Krueger, Eagan, Minn., as Ringmaster; senior Ellen Dawson, Crystal, Minn., as Little Bear; and junior Holly Bergman, Green Bay, as Tish. Brockmann also is the choreographer, and Krueger is the technical director and sound designer.

All of the students were involved in costume and set design.

Chapman is the director for the production, in addition to the professor for the touring theater course responsible for the Theatre for Young Audiences performances.

The goals of the class are to teach students about the field of theater for young audiences, to investigate what it means to privilege a child's voice in a work of theater, and to take a show on the road to area elementary schools, Chapman said. Students in the class participate in all aspects of the production, from cast members and costume designers to set construction crew and choreographers.

General admission tickets for the April 14-15 performances at UW-Eau Claire are available at the University Service Center, 715-836-3727 or 800-949-UWEC. Tickets are $5 for the public and $3 for children under 17.

The Theatre for Young Audience's mission is to provide quality theatrical experiences that inspire, enrich, entertain and educate young people and families in the Chippewa Valley.

Teachers interested in booking tour performances should contact Dr. Jennifer Chapman at chapmajj@uwec.edu.

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OJ/JB/DW

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