As kindergartner Charlie Rohrer watched a puppet performance at the Overture Center on Friday, he was curious about how the Red Bird character was able to swoop around the stage.
Because the performance of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Other Treasured Stories by Eric Carle” by Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia was done in black light, it was difficult to see how the puppets were being manipulated. Charlie thought perhaps kite string was being used.
“I wanted to ask them about how they moved the bird,” Charlie said.
Charlie also said he wondered how a stage prop was manipulated to make it appear that the caterpillar in the “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” story ate part of an apple. So he was glad when some of the performers answered questions from the audience at the end of the show and demonstrated how some of the puppets worked.
Charlie and other students in the 4- and 5-year-old kindergarten programs at Blessed Sacrament School attended the show through the OnStage Student Field Trips program at Overture. The program gives children the chance to attend a performance by offering tickets for $9, or $8 each for groups of 20 or more, with ticket and bus subsidies available for low-income students. The lead sponsors are American Girl’s Fund for Children, Wisconsin Arts Board and Promega Corp.
“It is an educational experience for students to have the opportunity to come to a venue such as ours and have a theater experience and to experience world class artists,” said Tim Sauers, Overture’s vice president of programming and community engagement. “It is an audience development tool for us.”
Teachers are provided resource guides, but not every performance offered through the OnStage program has the question-and-answer session.
Virginia Nodolf, kindergarten teacher at Blessed Sacrament, said it was a valuable tool because her students and the parent chaperones were wondering how the puppets worked.
“They love to know how things work,” Nodolf said of her students.
Another student, Lane First, figured the puppets were being manipulated from the top of the stage, not from below as they were.
Nodolf, who is a big fan of Carle’s books, said she has an annual unit that centers on his work. This year, students made brown bear collages and constructed caterpillars.
Some home-schooled and preschool-aged children also attended, including Tirzah Caron, 3, who had hoped to touch a puppet.
“It’s a great chance for them to see stories we’ve read in a different way,” sad Becky Brotzman, who brought her two preschoolers. “You’ll see them play differently after we come to a show.”