This week I was able to have a conversation with Art Manke, the Director and Choreographer for Elephant and Pigge’s “We are in a Play”
You have a lot of shows you have directed, do you have a different approach to shows for Young Audiences as opposed to something like I Hate Hamlet.
“I don’t really approach shows for young audiences any differently, than those for adults. We always gear the work towards a specific audience, however, so if I know the audience is primarily made of middle-aged traditional theatre-goers it’s going to be a little different, but we still aim to do our best work. The goal is not to talk down to the children but to treat them like any other intelligent theatre-goer. All MainStreet productions treat the young audience members like small adults, who are capable of complex thoughts and reactions to what is happening on stage.”
Can you give me a little background of how you got started in directing and choreographing?
“I started acting in musical theatre when I was 13 in Chicago and haven’t stopped since. I’ve gone through different phases of theatre through my career. I went to the University of Illinois and got my B.F.A. in Acting and then to the American Conservatory Theatre to get my M.F.A. in Acting. I was always directing along the way, and more recently I have stopped acting and focused primarily on directing. I have worked on a number of shows for young audiences, like Peter and the Starcatcher at South Coast Rep and also some TV shows like Hannah Montana.”
This show is based on a number of books, what do you think the audience will take from watching the show instead of reading it.
“Every choice that we make is always based on the material that we are given. This play is based on the books by Mo Willems. So obviously we want to look at those and try to capture the essence of the books and transfer that to the stage. It’s a different experience (reading a book and watching a play). Our job is to provide appropriate stimuli for the imagination, that will bring the book to life onstage. Hopefully they will have such a great time in the theatre that they will want to return again and again, until it becomes a habit that they carry with them into adulthood.“
What are you looking forward to as a choreographer?
“A lot of the music is funky and upbeat and I think that is going to be really fun to work on.”
What would you say to children that want to get involved in theatre?
“I think the community of Rancho Cucamonga is very fortunate to have MainStreet. The quality of the work is something you don’t normally see at theatres for young audiences across the country. I think it’s really important for kids to be exposed to performing arts, because it expands their world view, and as participants, they will gain self confidence and valuable communication skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.