Olympia Family Theater: For Adventurous Children And The Young At Heart

From left: (standing) Morgan Picton as Napleon, Tom Sanders as Boxer, and Jamie Jenson as Clover in "Animal Farm." Photo credit Dinea DePhoto

By Alec Clayton

Presenting shows by adults for children is what Olympia Family Theater is all about. Their latest show is “Animal Farm” based on the allegorical novella by George Orwell, which was published in England in1945. The talking animals lend themselves nicely to a play for children, but the book and the play are adult satire. It was originally an attack on Stalinism and carries a broader message about how revolutionary movements can be corrupted.

OFT’s dramatization “remains faithful to the book’s plot and intent and retains both its affection for the animals and the incisiveness of its message,” says a statement on the OFT website.

OFT co-founder Samantha Chandler says it is a challenge to perform it for children but it can be done. “Other children’s theaters have done it. It’s such an iconic story and so many people have read it,” she says.

Fellow co-founder Jen Ryles says, “It flows right into our mission,” which is to offer accessible children’s theater and programs that entertain and educate while stimulating dialogue and personal growth for young people, their families and the wider community. She says any show, even a funny one, can inspire dialogue long after the show is over.

Chandler will direct the performance, which will star a number of well-known local actors including: Heather Christopher as Squealer, Alayna Chamberland as the storyteller, Ingrid Pharris Goebel as Minimus and Pigeon, Jamie Jenson as Clover, Grant McGee as Snowball, Morgan Picton as Napolean, Christopher Rocco as Major and Benjamin, Tom Sanders as Boxer, Zoe Shields as Moses, Pilkington and others, and Sarah Jolley as Mollie and others.

Ryles came up with the idea of forming a children’s theater while she was a student at The Evergreen State College. “I have always loved children’s literature and I have always loved theater, so the two were a perfect marriage,” she says.

She mentioned to her faculty advisor, Sara Rucker Thiessen, that she would like to start a children’s theater, and Thiessen told her she knew someone else who wanted to start a children’s theater. That person was Chandler, who was teaching middle school at the time.

Chandler says, “I grew up in Spokane and there was a great children’s theater there, and I saw there wasn’t one here.”

Samantha Chandler and Jen Ryles

So Ryles and Chandler met in May of 2006 and put on their first show in October of that year. That first show was an adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” at The Midnight Sun performance space. Since then they have produced well over a dozen plays. For the first two years their shows were performed at The Midnight Sun and the black box theater in the performing arts center at South Puget Sound Community College. Last season they moved to another black box theater, the one at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. They have also just launched their first touring season. “The reason for the tour is to reach more kids,” Ryles says.

The touring shows are called “OFT On the Move.” Sets, costumes and actors pack into a van and take their shows to schools, churches and other sites. Their first touring show was “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” at St. Michael’s Church. Still to come this season is “The Fisherman and His Wife,” which will run in April and May. It is recommended for children from preschool through 5th grade.

“Animal Farm runs March 23 to April 8 at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts with performances Thursday and Friday evenings at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1 p.m. It is recommended for all ages but aimed at 10 to12 year-olds.

Up next will be “Goodnight Moon” May 18 to June 3. Also coming up April 2-8 is the spring break camp for ages 6 to 9. Classes are also offered for children from toddlers up through age 7 in a program called OFTeenies. “We call them OFTeenies because for five years we have had amazing teenage volunteers who work on stage and behind the scenes whom we lovingly refer to as our OFTeens.”

Chandler and Ryles write in their season announcement brochure: “We are committed to creating a fun, supportive place to work and play together. We will provide technical training and experience both on stage and behind the scenes to young people and adult community members working with us as interns, volunteers and staff.”

Animal Farm Model

For more information on Olympia Family Theater visit their website at http://www.olyft.org.

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