David Saar, the Artistic Director and Founder of Tempe-based “Childsplay”, talks about the work of his professional theatre company that’s now concluding its 35th season with the original production “The Color of Stars”.
Ted Simons: Tonight's "Arizona Artbeat" segment looks at Childsplay, a Tempe-based professional theater company that's been performing for kids and families for 35 years. I recently spoke with David Saar, the founder and artistic director of Childsplay. Thank you for joining us on "Arizona Horizon."
David Saar: Thank you.
Ted Simons: What is Childsplay?
David Saar: Childsplay is a professional theater company for young audiences. We're based in Tempe. We do a season at the Tempe center for the arts, we do touring shows to Arizona schools throughout the state, we have class -- programs in classrooms, and starting four years ago now, next year, we are touring nationally.
Ted Simons: Wow.
David Saar: Coast-to-coast.
Ted Simons: When people hear Childsplay, they think child actors, child audiences.
David Saar: they think child actors and they're wrong.
Ted Simons: OK.
David Saar: It's an adult professional company. We spend a long time trying to rectify that. But -- so it's a group -- Childsplay is unusual in that we have a resident ensemble of artists. Some who have been with the company for 25 years. And so they have worked together, taught together, and they -- that shows up on stage. And kids feel that excellence.
Ted Simons: Indeed. But the audience now, these plays are designed, these productions are designed for a younger audience. What age range?
David Saar: Really K -- sometimes younger, we do preschool work now, through mid high school, maybe. But actually some shows, like "color of stars" that we're doing right now is for everybody. I had -- whey this morning, a kid audience, we had this afternoon an audience of seniors. Both of them saw the identical show, but got much different things out of it and had much different responses for the actors.
Ted Simons: That brings up a question about how much you can do for kids and how that make -- 35 years you've been doing this. I want to get back to that too. But in 35 -- kids changed over the last 35 years. How do you keep it relevant, how do you make sure it's not too much?
David Saar: I don't think it can ever be too much. I don't -- that's a fundamental principle. I don't underestimate kids at all. I think they're capable of far deeper understanding, and I've this that proved out over the years. The audiences have changed. 10-year-old kid now has never lived in America that was not at war. That's changed our perception. At the same time, what being at war means is different from an earlier generation. And so this play we're doing now "color of stars," is about World War II, in rural Maine, that's way far away from the Tempe, Arizona, area, or wherever we're performing, but the kids are taken into that environment and see what another war was like for characters and a kid that they come to identify with.
Ted Simons: When you're performing and you've got this young audience out there, how do you know you have them? Do they get quiet? Go they do this?
David Saar: They get quiet, they lean forward, they laugh when it's funny.
Ted Simons: They're paying attention.
David Saar: Yes.
Ted Simons:: And when you don't have them, they start fiddling.
David Saar: wiggle.
Ted Simons: You get to choose to play, sometimes you direct, the whole nine yards.
David Saar: Yes.
Ted Simons: When you read a play that's designed for a younger audience, do you see a wiggle spot right there on the page?
David Saar: Yes. Yeah, you can, but there's -- you have to direct almost to an automatic -- there's going to be a wiggle spot at 13 minutes. Because that's when the commercial comes.
Ted Simons: Interesting.
David Saar: And so that's a part of it. But it's also the actors. The actors, when they're working they're connected to that audience. And the audience feels that connection, it feels they are feeding the actors. They are giving energy back to the performers. And it's magic. It's the magic of live theater.
Ted Simons: You mentioned a commercial of 13. Highway else do you have to deal with television, with iPads and ipods, and all sorts of gaming equipment? The whole -- you've got a lot of -- when you started 35 years ago, none of that stuff except for TV was around.
David Saar: Exactly. But it's all a challenge. The thing is, the meaning of live theater is so different than staring at an iPad, or television, or a movie screen or game. It's immediate connection, person-to-person. And kids respond to that. They are in some ways the easiest and the hardest audiences. Because they will let you know if they're not entertained or if they're not following you. But at the same time, they're willing to go anywhere. You want them to go to Mars, they'll go to Mars with you. They'll go to the depths of the ocean. They'll go anywhere. In pursuit of a good story.
Ted Simons: Yeah. And you in pursuit of a home have been around Tempe. You've got a few spots now, but now you're at the beautiful center for the performing arts.
David Saar: The city has been an incredible sponsor for Childsplay, in 35 years. Back when it made no sense to support us. But, yes, we've had a number of homes in Tempe. Now we're permanently at the Tempe center for the arts.
Ted Simons: And I understand that they will come out to see you, but you're kind of working in concert with a group from Indiana on some sort of cooperation?
David Saar: Yeah. We have a lot of national partners. I'm going to a new place, workshop this week in St. Louis with another company. But we have taken over a new place, a festival that has been at Indiana repertory theater for 25 years. The founder was ready to move on, and so the Indiana repertory theater and Childsplay are cosponsoring that, giving it a new name, and it will be a launch of four to six new plays every two years, two years -- first year in Tempe in 2013, Indianapolis in 2015. And it is an opportunity for young playwrights who might not necessarily have connection with the theater, with the producing theater, to get their work shared. We'll bring artists here and we'll work for a week, and then share that 10 shows over the course of a weekend.
Ted Simons: My goodness.
David Saar: All new work, all hopefully going to do just exactly what you asked about, speak to today's kids.
Ted Simons: Yes.
David Saar: Speak to what they're interested in now.
Ted Simons: 35 years. I gotta ask, what got you started in this, and were your initial goals, A, after all these yours they've gone down to furthering the alphabet.
David Saar: I'm afraid they -- it began a little selfishly. My need -- I just needed to get out of ASU. I had to prove to them I could direct. So I directed this show, first show was a group I pulled together a group, and it was a reviewed by time call will today be yesterday tomorrow? Think about it.
Ted Simons: That's a great title.
David Saar: But the whole process of creation was so pleasant, and then people just started asking us to come out and perform. We didn't start out to make an organization. We started out to make a play. And that's continued. The kind of plays we create has changed vastly over the years. And continues to.
Ted Simons: And last question, last pointer. 35 years. When you look back, you feel like you made a difference?
David Saar: Yes.
Ted Simons: Good for you. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.
David Saar: Thank you.
David Saar:Artistic Director and Founder, Childsplay;