Playhouse aims for pre-adolescent audience

The department of theater and dance is digging through a chest of props for an idea that will engage the community, while providing theater majors with a unique stage experience.

It’s called Penguin Playhouse.

Frank Castronovo, chairman of the department of theater and dance at YSU, said the program will engage 5- to 9-year-olds.

“Currently, our theater offerings are for adults,” Castronovo said. “But there’s a big market for younger audiences, and we need to move into that.”

The Penguin Playhouse satisfies the theater department’s need to create an inexpensive program.

All of the shows that will be performed are required to have props fit inside of a trunk.

“It involves basic street clothes or costumes, a few minor set pieces and can be taken anywhere, ready to go,” Castronovo said. “It can be performed in a classroom, a community center or even in one of the theaters here.”

Keeping things simple and low-key in the productions allows expenses to stay low. With the regular season of theater not leaving much money, the Penguin Playhouse is able to work with a lower budget and be more flexible.

Penguin Playhouse is considered a subset of the university theater programming. Show themes and ideas come from faculty or students. With only “Cinderella” under its belt, the program is expected to grow.

“Cinderella” was performed a year ago as the test run for Penguin Playhouse.

“[‘Cinderella’] was very quickly thrown together and was a little haphazard,” Castronovo said.

Penguin Playhouse is prepping for “Hansel and Gretel,” an interactive show.

“We’re doing a little more focused work this year, as it’s going to be our first fully developed Penguin Playhouse production,” Castronovo said.

It isn’t the typical “Hansel and Gretel” story. It’s a bit more comical. And because of the interactive component, students will engage the audience in dialogue with the kids.

Anyone, including faculty and staff, can be involved with the shows.

“A lot of students in our theater honorary society were involved with this,” Castronovo said. “People contribute to the limits of their ability or desire, and you end up getting this thing together to go out and perform.”

Penguin Playhouse wants to perform at least one show a year, but they haven’t ruled out additional productions. Even though the props and costumes seem simple, the entourage rehearses as much as a full-fledged production.

“We rehearse every day to get them ready,” Castronovo said. “We have five weeks of rehearsal, five days a week for three hours. So, it is a lot of work.”

To maintain the young audience’s attention, the children’s shows span only an hour.

But Castronovo said he wants that hour to inspire the young audience.

“We want to prepare students to enjoy theater as part of their entertainment life,” Castronovo said. “If you don’t start young, you’re not going to do it, and we want to make it a lifelong habit.”

“Hansel and Gretel” is set for one showing on April 28 in the Spotlight Arena Theater in Bliss Hall.

“When kids go to see live performers, they know there is an experience there that you are not going to get going to a movie,” Castronovo said. “It’s not better, it’s not worse; it’s just different, and it’s something we want to expose students to.”