News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Play In The Woods At Wolf Trap
BY COLLETTE CAPRARA
FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Deep in the woods at one nearby national park, lies a special treasure for area families. That would be the Theater-in-the-Woods at Wolf Trap, the only national park dedicated to the performing arts where a variety of children’s performances and musical genres will be onstage this summer.
“It’s a magical venue,” said educational outreach coordinator Diane Dickerson. “Families walk down a path through a meadow, cross a bridge over the stream, and follow a nature path to the outdoor stage nestled in a grove of trees.”
“Each performer engages every single child in the audience in their own unique way,” said Wolf Trap Foundation spokesperson Graham Binder. “The setting, combined with the energy, expertise and high quality of performance is something I’ve never seen elsewhere.”
This month’s performances range from a German master puppeteer to a string band featuring toe-tapping Americana tunes (Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem) to jazz musicians playing compositions from a child’s perspective (Coal Train Railroad).
“Children are a wonderful, very forgiving and fun-loving audience,” said Arbo. “When you play for an adult audience, they are there to listen and receive, but when you play for kids, they are ready to play! That ups the ‘fun factor’ for us and it’s really refreshing and invigorating. We incorporate a lot of audience interaction in our show.”
Arbo describes the unique value of the experience of a live performance for children, which provide an opportunity to see what various instruments look like and how they are played.
“They’ll see that a fiddle makes a sound when a bow goes across the strings, while a pick hits the strings of a guitar, and a banjo is plucked. I think that when kids watch a person perform on stage they often think, ‘I can do that!’ and they go home and give it a try.”
That may be especially true for youngsters who see this band, given that their drum set is composed nearly entirely of recycled objects—ranging from cat food tins to a vinyl suitcase.
The jazz-for-kids band, Coal Train Railroad (a hat-tip to jazz legend John Coltrane) is composed of bassist Chris Donohue, singer Katy Bowser and a “family of players” who join them for various performances throughout the country. (Their Wolf Trap performance will feature renowned jazz musicians Harry Appelman on the keyboard and Tony Martucci on the drums.)
The duo originally met when Donohue was invited to play bass when Bowser was recording an album. Later, Bowser virtually became part of the Donohue family as she served as the caregiver of choice for the two daughters of Donohue and his wife, Laura. Bowser recently became a mom herself, and the band’s compositions are taken largely from real-life experience.
“We try to get inside the kids’ heads when we write a song,” said Donohue, “but we also include plays on words and double entendres that both children and adults can appreciate on their own level.”
Donohue said that the spontaneity and freedom of jazz is a natural fit for young audiences.
“What’s great with jazz is that you can discuss the whole idea of freedom within boundaries that can have both a musical and behavioral context,” he said. “And hopefully, all through their lives the children will never lose that urge to be spontaneous and creative.”
Children’s albums by both Rani Arbo and daisey mayhem and Coal Train Railroad have won national awards. And the National Wildlife Federation has recently incorporated a Coal Train Railroad song, “Dirt,” in its Be Out There campaign, which highlights the benefits that outdoor play has for children’s physical, mental and emotional well-being.
“The Theater-in-the-Woods performances are something that children will remember for a long time, and that is, in part, why it’s become a family tradition in the local area,” said assistant director of education outreach, Erin Perry. “Parents who once came to performances in their childhood are now bringing their own children.”
“For many children, the Theater-in-the-Woods is the first place where they experience the performing arts. That’s something we take very seriously,” said Dickerson. “We want to present artists of the highest quality so that they will just fall in love with music, dance and theater. And, hopefully, that is something that will continue through their lifetime.”
What: Children’s performances at Theater in the Woods
Where: Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna
When: June through August
Tickets and info: 877/ WOLFTRAP; WolfTrap.org
Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.