Steppingstone Theatre For Youth in St. Paul educates young people in Theatre both on and backstage. According their website:
SteppingStone ignites belonging, generosity, mastery, self-advocacy, and inspiration by creating art with young people to share with the world.Steppingstone Theatre For Youth Website
What this means is that for a show like The Real Life Adventures of Jimmy De Las Rosa is that with the exception of two adult actors all of the performers on stage are between the ages of 12 and 17. They are also the ones shifting the sets and managing the shadow puppetry and lighting effects of which there are many. This is theatre for youth by youth and that’s a pretty incredible thing. As I go to anywhere between three and five shows a week, I have a fairly good idea of what makes up the average theatre audience. It can certainly vary based on show and theatre but the overwhelming majority of the theater audiences skew old, I’d be surprised if the average age was lower than 50. It seems more important than ever if we do not want the market to shrink even more dramatically over the next ten years than it did the previous ten, we need to engage younger people with theater. Whether it be as performers, backstage crew, or as audience members, we need to show today’s youth the possibilities of theatre as entertainment and an art form. Open up their view to what theater can do, and that’s why I am a huge fan of companies like Steppingstone, Stages, and The Children’s Theatre Company. Not only do they teach young people the art but they are often a young person’s first exposure to live theater as an audience member.
I attended a matinee performance of The Real Life Adventures of Jimmy De Las Rosa with a theatre full of elementary school kids. Hell! you say? Not at all, this is the audience you want to see it with, it’s the audience it exists for. I had a blast and it brought me back to those days of getting out of morning class, taking a bus to a theater and seeing a play with hundreds of other kids for schools all over town. If the goal for a theatre like Steppingstone is to engage and entertain young people, I’d say they achieved that goal admirably. The children in the theatre were laughing at all the right spots, they shrieked when something scary happened, and they all spontaneously sang along to a song that was heard in the play. They were engaged and entertained. At the end of the show they did a little Q&A on the stage with three of the actors to drive home the point that hey, the people on stage are your age or just a little older, this could be you if you are interested. The questions were all prepared and asked by a member of the theater staff, but they would have had plenty of questions from the audience, who must’ve had the impression they got to ask the questions as there were quite a few little hands in the air.
If it’s to teach performance and stagecraft to young people who are curious about theatre, then I’d have to say that was another success. They attempted things technically that were really quite creative and challenging, They did a lot shining lights behind screens creating silhouettes of people, puppets and pictures that then shone on screens built into the flats of the set pieces. They may have been a little too ambitious on this front as there were several moments during the show when you could tell you were supposed to be seeing something on the screen but it wasn’t being executed correctly. But for the sheer number of cues involved in those techniques it would have been a miracle if there hadn’t been a few misses. Hats off to the leaders who chose those techniques to tell this story. It could have been done in a much simpler fashion, but by choosing this they taught the students a different technique that can be used. They challenged the whole team to learn all of these different cues and I think that was a really bold decision.
The show itself tells the story of Jimmy who has super powers, he can make objects move with his mind, handled by some simple tricks onstage, but that elicited gasps from many of the kids. His neighborhood is plagued by mysterious disappearances. When his mother disappears, Jimmy along with new super friends Eddie, Ayana, and the neighbor lady Juani set out to find her and the other missing people. They will meet and do battle with mutant Chihuahuas in very effective costumes. They will chase each other through the audience, and believe me, that gave them a thrill! It all worked well and keeps the kids focused on the story, there is plenty of humor and action so their attention doesn’t wander. Parents looking for a show to introduce their kids to theater will be in safe hands, it’s recommended for ages 10 and up, but I think there were younger kids than that in the audience today. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.steppingstonetheatre.org/