Junie B. Jones is a rambunctious 6-year-old—and 6-year-olds take things very literally. She doesn’t mean to get into trouble; it just kind of happens to her.
When her grandmother comes back from the hospital and tells her that her new baby brother is “th e cutest little monkey you’ve ever seen,” Junie goes and brags during Show And Tell at school about her new brother, the monkey ... and the complications begin.
That’s the hook to Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business, a musical play adapted by Joa n Cushing from the popular children’s book series by Barbara Park, playing today at noon, as well as this Saturday and next, Feb. 18 and 25 at 11 a. m. and 1:30 p. m., at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts on College Avenue.
“We believe that giving ki ds a way to experience books encourages them to read,” said Nina Meehan, educational director of Active Arts For Young Audiences, the East Bay professional theater company for kids and their families that’s staging the play. “And that stories like Junie’s remind us of how many different ways there are of interpreting the world around us.”
“Junie’s a little bit like what Ramona Quimby was for my generation, in the books by Beverly Cleary,” said Rachel Posamentier of Active Arts.
She spoke of Active Artis ts and their mission to entertain whole families with shows drawn from both the real-life experiences of children and from literature, encouraging kids to read and to explore the other arts, without moralizing about lessons to be learned.
“We’re adult ac tors who play all the parts, some of us trained specifically to perform for children and their families,” said Posamentier, “but all with longtime experience in Children’s Theater and as teachers and arts administrators in the performing and other arts. We work with visual artists and provide links to other artforms—music, dance, movement—to give a multi-arts dynamic to each show and the related workshops for our audiences.”
Active Arts was founded by Posamentier, Meehan, Mina Morita and Jared and Tracy Randolph. Their first show was Heroes (a play about unexpected heroes, like a mouse, overcoming obstacles) during the fall 2004 at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, where the troupe maintains an ongoing program of performances as well as puppetry and storyte lling workshops.
All five company members have been deeply involved in theater and children’s theater and education nationally and internationally. Locally, they’ve worked individually with companies like The Shotgun Players (Morita is on Shotgun’s Board of Directors), Berkeley Actors Ensemble, CalShakes, Playhouse West and Willows Theatre Co. in the East Bay, and A Traveling Jewish Theater and Thick Description in San Francisco, as well as with educational institutions like East Bay School of the Arts, Holy Names High School in Oakland and Playhouse West Academy.
“We met through Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre Programs [where Morita is a program coordinator],” Posamentier said. “Active Arts is modeled on Children’s Theatre Co. in Minneapolis a nd Seattle Children’s Theatre [where Jared Randolph worked in the drama school]; we’re geared to kids five and up and their families.”
After Junie B. Jones, Active Artists will produce an original show, Building Bridges, in which the story of immigration and diversity in California is told by the workers building the Golden Gate Bridge. Building Bridges will premiere at the Discovery Museum in late April.
“We aim to enchant audiences of all ages,” Posamentier said. “Entertaining, but with some kind of m eaning behind what we’re playing, taking our audience out of their own individual worlds for a moment. We believe kids in particular learn from seeing their own lives reflected back from the stage.”
When the company does its job well, the actors, and the characters they play, connect well with the audience, she said.
“It’s a challenge for the actors,” Posamentier said. “Kids are a very honest audience; they’ll believe in you. And we don’t underestimate their ability to get it. Something that tickles us is after bringing it alive onstage, at the end when we ask everybody to tell their friends about the show, the kids say, ‘It’s happening again? You mean, we can come back?’”
Active Arts For Young Audiences presents Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business at noon today (Friday), Feb. 18 and 25th at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Ave. $13, children 12 and under; $18 for adults. For more information, call (925) 798-1300 or see www.activeartstheatre.org.
Active Arts will hold a Family Fun Workshop from 2:30-3:30 p.m. March 4 at at the Julia Morgan Center. Tickets are $10 for children and adults are free. Children are encouraged to bring their favorite Junie B. Jones book.
Photo by Joshua Posamentier: Sharnee Nichols (Princess Lucille); Virginia Wilcox (Junie B. Jones); and Leslie Ivy (That Grace)..