“Oh dear, the Wicked Witch is coming!” cried the Mayor of Munchkin City.
“In that case,” responded Good Witch Glinda, “I’ve got to go.”
“But why?” asked Dorothy, who was just starting to get used to not being in Kansas anymore.
“Because she and I can’t be onstage at the same time. You’ll see why in a minute.”
That meta-moment is part of why I love Tom McCabe’s PaintBox Theatre. The troupe’s inspired approach to kids’ shows combines energetic hijinks, live sound effects, full-throated audience participation and life lessons – all with a cast of just three rambunctious performers.
Thus Linda Tardiff’s quip in the season opener, a zany rendering of The Wizard of Oz, in which she played both witches and a couple of other roles in quick-change costumes. That kind of frank multitasking is a primary ingredient of the PaintBox recipe for engaging its young audience in the magic and mayhem of live theater. That engagement includes regular opportunities for the whole audience to stand up and become, in this case, trees in the forest, poppies in the field and a three-part storm effect.
Tardiff was joined by Jasmine Ali’shah Jiles as Dorothy (in ruby sneakers) and Connor Paradis as Munchkin Mayor Schmooze, a flying monkey (in a Snoopy-style aviator helmet) and the Wiz himself, with Isabelle Hettlinger in the sound-effects booth. But even three busy performers can’t always manage all the characters a story calls for, so audience members are often recruited for bit parts. Here, one volunteer stood in for Toto, and in a moment of planned improvisation, PaintBox interns Mikey Diaz and Charley Kidd and tech director Lee Thomson became the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion.
A fter a couple of peripatetic years, PaintBox has landed on a two-home model, performing each of the summer’s shows first at Easthampton’s Williston School, then moving on to the Shea Theatre in Turners Falls with midweek performances for camp and school groups as well as the upper-Valley public.
McCabe’s twisted adaptations of beloved fairy tales and picture books now include an annual pirate production. This year it’s Melinda Long and David Shannon’s How I Became a Pirate, about a boy who joins Captain Braid Beard’s scurvy crew and discovers the ins and outs, but also the ups and downs of the swashbuckling life. This bigger-than-usual production fields four performers – Callum LaFrance, Troy David Mercier, Kelsey Flynn and Myka Plunkett – as well as a whole audience of young pirates.
On Saturday the theme extends into PaintBox’s “first annual Pirate Day” on the Williston campus. Beginning with a Pirate Picnic, the free activities include workshops in talking and dressing like a pirate, plus pirate-ship racing, pirate-joke telling, plank-walking and more. There’s also a treasure hunt all over Easthampton’s downtown in search of free loot from local businesses.
How I Became a Pirate performs July 21 and 7 p.m. and July 22-23 and 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the Williston Theatre, 18 Payson Avenue, Easthampton, and July 26-27 at 10:30 a.m. in the Shea Theater, 71 Avenue A, Turners Falls. $10. Info & tickets at PaintBox Theatre.
Pirate Day takes place Saturday the 21st, 10–3:30 at the Williston School. Free. Full details on Facebook.
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