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CTL’s SPROUTS revives ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’

All work, all play

March 18, 2012
By C.A. KELLER - Sun-Gazette Correspondent , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

One sings all summer; the other works way too hard: Is it odd then, that finding a balance will happen on the stage, where one must work in order to play and play in order to work?

What might sound like philosophy is really just fodder for SPROUTS, the Community Theatre League's youth theater program.

SPROUTS is reviving the "The Ant and the Grasshopper," which will run at 7:30 p.m. March 23 and 24, and at 2 p.m. March 25.

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Adapted by Rob Dearborn from one of Aesop's fables, "The Ant and the Grasshopper" tells the story of the hardworking Ant (Ivy Waldron) and her friendship with a grasshopper (Ben Thomas) who prefers to sing all summer rather than prepare for the winter ahead. The thousand-year-old story leaves the grasshopper out in the cold, but Dearborn's adaptation takes a new tack: cooperation.

The play emphasizes the value of balancing work and play, as the ant and the grasshopper take notes from each other. Ant learns to lighten up, while Grasshopper learns that a little hard work might not kill him - and might instead ensure he survives the winter. Also present for the lessons in effort and fun are the Butterfly (Arielle Roush), the Ladybug (Nathaniel Miller), a few Ant assistants (Hannah Rankey and Michael Frontz), the Spider (Cassie Conklin) and the Queen (Emily Kilheeney).

SPROUTS productions are a unique CTL collaboration, because they are for children and performed by young members of the community: area students ranging in age from 10 to 15. It allows the fable's message to be conveyed from the young, to the younger.

The play's director, Julie Hulslander, is an area theatre veteran - and former Grasshopper herself, in the prior 1990s CTL production. According to Hulslander, SPROUTS productions operate on several different levels for young audiences.

"First of all, I think it's wonderful for young children to even go to a theater and see live theater," she said, adding that it's also important for children "to learn how to actually behave in the theater, how to be an audience, and to see other children acting, even though our audience may be somewhat younger (than those onstage)."

The very young are also a particular kind of audience, one to whom theatre can offer a particular kind of magic. Adults often go to the movies or the theatre hoping to be able to suspend their disbelief, but for young children, the idea is much more instinctive.

"There's that fine line, (around) 3 years old, 4 years old, 5 years old, where (children ask), 'Is it real or is it not real?' " said Hulslander, who is also a teacher at the St. Luke Preschool. "So there are those 'ooh ahh' moments where they're really drawn into it, where they think it's really a grasshopper or really an ant."

Those "ooh-aah" moments are important, not only in conveying the power of theater, but also for a practical reason: To keep little butts in the seats and captivated.

"Being a show for children, we know it's important to have a lot of action, a lot of fun moments, a lot of surprise moments, as well to keep the young children really mesmerized, hopefully," Hulslander said.

As a result - and as part of the nature of theater - the play will have intricate costumes and a complex anthill set, all created by CTL's legion of dedicated volunteers.

The play's Grasshopper, Ben Thomas, also said that he hopes the play's message speaks to the small ones in the audience.

"I'm hoping that they take away having fun," he said. "Because there's always room for fun and there's always room for work, and basically that's what the show is trying to show you."

A Jersey Shore eighth grader, Thomas has previously performed at CTL in "Cheaper By the Dozen" and "The Prince Who Wouldn't Grow." "The Ant and the Grasshopper" is his second SPROUTS show.

Thomas said that, while he would have taken any role he was offered, he was hoping to be the Grasshopper.

"I like how he's so fun-loving and he's always hyper and running around and having fun no matter what he does," Thomas said. "And he's also caring for his friends because he loves them. Sometimes he can get annoyed by things, but he's still always his jolly self."

According to Hulslander, cast members typically end a production quite bonded, due to the long hours logged in the name of work and play. As a result, the theater offers as many life lessons offstage as it does onstage and it's something that underscores the importance of creativity in the lives of CTL's student participants.

"One of the things I just love to see are the friendships that develop and the bonding and the working together toward a mutual goal," she said. "As well as the process of the experience being as important as the product. The kids really start to take ownership of the play and I encourage them to share ideas and as they get more comfortable with each other and with their characters - the more comfortable they get, the more fun they're having."

Thomas seconded the sense of fun and dedication, which reminded him of when he began performing.

"I really just wanted to go in front of people and start performing," he said. "I like to sing as well, so I sing in front of people, and I act. I just wanted to show people my creativity."

But more than anything, Thomas said it's the people he's met doing theater that keep him coming back. The ones who inspire him, he said, are "mostly the people who are helping put it together, like Julie and all the other cast members and costume designers. Because without them you wouldn't have a show, and they're so nice it's unreal."

For Hulslander, this is all part of the process, both of working with students and in the theatre. Her goal as a director is "to help the actors and actresses reach their highest potential, to get to where they're doing the best they can do, and that's enough."

But the creative process and fostering student involvement also brings its own rewards.

"For me, directing a play is sort of like my canvas," Hulslander said. "It's my fulfillment, my artistic fulfillment as well, to start with a script and visualize it, and cast it, and work with it - the process of it is really exciting. And I grow very close to the kids.

Directing also keeps Hulslander involved at CTL. where she's participated since 1980. "It's one of the circles of community that nourishes my spirit," she said. "People yearn for a sense of belonging and a place where they can share and give of their time and talent, and for me a big chunk of that is CTL."

Tickets for "The Ant and the Grasshopper" are available online, or by calling 327-1777 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays.



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