There’s an early October treat in store for Columbia’s young audiences, as the USC Theatre Program will present a live stage version of Louis Sachar’s beloved book series, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, October 6-14 at Drayton Hall Theatre.
Special show times are 7pm Thursdays and Fridays, 11am and 3pm on Saturdays and 3pm on the first Sunday. Admission is $15 for students, $20 for USC faculty/staff, military, and seniors 60+, and $22 for the public. Tickets may be purchased online at sc.universitytickets.com. Drayton Hall Theatre is located at 1214 College St.
Things are always a bit wonky at the 30-story Wayside Elementary – the building’s only one classroom wide, for starters, and its 19th floor has mysteriously ceased to exist. It’s in mean Mrs. Gorf’s top-floor class, however, where things have gone completely sideways. Known for punishing students by magically turning them into apples, she finds herself the victim of her own spell and soon becomes lunch for a hungry, passing teacher! Adapted by John Olive and incorporating stories from the best-selling children’s books, Sideways Stories from Wayside School is a wild, wacky adventure full of fun and surprises, with some valuable lessons to share along the way.
Guest artist Ilene Fins is directing the production. A veteran director, actor, and teacher, Fins has a long history of work in the children’s theatre realm, with many years of experience teaching and directing at Seattle Children’s Theatre and Harrison School for the Arts, a performing arts high school in Florida. Fins is currently a Professor of Theatre at Midlands Technical College.
“It's this absurd look at life in an elementary school,” Fins says about the show’s zany plot. But ultimately, she adds, the story contains messages about inclusion and embracing diversity. “All the child characters in the play have special traits, divergent ways of thinking or behaving, that can make them feel like outsiders. But at Wayside School, it's all part of the magic and the love. If you're a little wonky here, you belong.”
The USC Theatre Program has a decades-long history of producing plays in a variety of genres and styles, from the heightened language plays of Shakespeare to contemporary stories from modern playwrights. Professor Peter Duffy, who heads the M.A.T. in Teaching Theatre degree track at the university, says offering a show specifically for young audiences fits perfectly with the theatre program’s mission.
“A lot of young actors get their start working in theatre for youth, so this is great opportunity to get them on-the-job training,” he says. “The worlds that you get to create and live in [in children’s theatre] are so imaginative and otherworldly. It’s an incredible chance to dig into their craft – for designers to create elaborate worlds and for actors to inhabit big characters, yet still convey truth in these imaginary circumstances.”
The benefits are just as rewarding for the community, he says. “There are a lot of interesting studies that have shown that exposure to theatre helps kids’ connection to creativity and imagination, and there is even some work around emerging literacy skills that are connected to theatre. It’s also an incredible thing for families to be able to enjoy together.”
“Doing a play for young audiences is a brilliant way to remind us what the value of theater is, but also open the door to youngsters to be able to see what's possible and what storytelling can look like in lots of ways,” Duffy adds. “So much storytelling now is two-dimensional through a handheld device or on a screen. To be able to be in a three-dimensional space, to share a story with a family, is a pretty unique thing to do. And there aren't a lot of opportunities to do that.”
Fins concurs. “Theatre for young audiences is, to me, the most important theatre because this is what builds the audiences of tomorrow.”
Cast in the production are undergraduate students Eliza Dojan, Cameron Eubanks, Lavender Grant, Sunni Greene, Paul Hommel, Vaibhav Kishore, Rowland Marshall, Phillip Parker, Asher Thompson, Olivia Wamai and Kennedy Williams. Designers for the show are graduate students Ruihan Liu (scenic), Andrew Burns (costume) and Lorna Young (lighting), with guest artist Danielle Wilson creating the sound design. Guest artist Joseph Boyd, an alum of the USC dance program, is choreographer for the production.
It all adds up to a special offering that will provide audiences of multiple generations a chance to share the pure fun and magic of theatre together, she says. “You'll have a blast. It’s an unexpected story that will take you into a world that is flipped on its head. You've got to experience it to believe it.”
For more information on Sideways Stories from Wayside School or the theatre program at the University of South Carolina, contact Kevin Bush by phone at 803-777-9353 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.