By Jessica Neu
I had the pleasure of speaking with Wayne Brinda, Prime Stage Theater Artistic Director, about Prime Stage Sprouts. The goal of Sprouts is to bring literature to life in the form of children’s theater that is accessible to families with children of all ages. Brinda explained that plays such as A Wrinkle in Time could be too sophisticated for younger children and too long for their attention span. Therefore, Prime Stage Sprouts brings stories to life that are shorter than a standard two-act play. But still offer quality entertainment and a traditional theatrical experience for young children.
Brinda stressed the importance of younger audiences getting to experience theater in the form of a play for a myriad of reasons. Through Sprouts, kids can not only learn the aggregate of sitting and watching a play and experiencing a story come to life, but they can also see a representation of themselves in the cast as Sprouts’ productions cast teen actors for the roles of child characters. This age-appropriate casting allows kids to connect with the characters in a way that is impossible when adults are the actors or even through a large-scale musical production targeted at children.
Sprout’s first production, The Amazing Lemonade Girl, runs June 16-19 at the New Hazlett Theater and tells the story of Alex Scott, a young girl diagnosed with a rare childhood illness. Determined not to allow her illness to define her, she began a front yard lemonade stand to raise funds to help other kids. Based on the book written by her parents, this regional premiere shows how a single person can change the world one act or even one cup at a time. In this true story, Alex’s noble efforts have raised over $1 million and spawned a foundation that has raised $200 million and funded over 1,000 medical research projects for children’s health.
Prime Stage Sprouts’ production team had the pleasure of interviewing Alex’s mother to ensure they responsibly portrayed this heroic girl’s story and properly shared her inspiring message with audience members. Beyond the interview, they also work with Alex’s Lemonade Foundation to raise money for childhood cancer. Sprouts members will be outside the Children’s Museum on Pittsburgh’s North Side this Tuesday, June 14, from 10:30-2:30, selling lemonade and collecting donations for the national charity. The company has invited children currently ill or in the hospital to see The Amazing Lemonade Girl show with their families as a respite.
Brinda explained that each of the shows that Prime Stage Sprouts performs aims to be more than just a quality performance but also a comprehensive experience that includes community outreach. The company sees itself poised to give back to the community in addition to exposing children to theater. When they are not using their efforts philanthropically, they have a teen advisory board that organizes community outreach initiatives. The company also hires young set and costume designers to provide them with opportunities to hone their craft.
The production staff has been trained to create sensory-inclusive shows. They work diligently to ensure that any Sprouts’ production has no sensory-rich elements that could prove overstimulating to audience members. The performance on Saturday, June 18 at 2:30 is specifically a sensory-inclusive show that, in addition to the show not having any loud noises or jarring sound effects, there will also be a quiet area, noise cancel headphones, and fidgets available for audience members. Brinda, a former educator and professor of education explained that their actors receive training on the importance of inclusivity, including how to continue the production even if audience members become vocal, exhibit self-stimulatory behaviors, or even need to leave their seats for a break.
She expressed a great need for children’s theater in the Pittsburgh region, and there is a gap in the market for this type of production. “We need to have people connect again, communicate, discuss, and foster socialization,” Brinda explained, “and theater is a way to bring people together.” By telling stories to which children can relate, they are not just entertained but can be inspired to spark dialogue between children and their grown-ups. “Young kids know a lot, but they need the opportunity to express themselves and have their parents talk to them,” Brinda continued. He hopes that families who see The Amazing Lemonade Girl can talk with their children, positing such questions for discussion as, “What did you think about Alex?” “What did you think about her friends?” Discussing these questions can make the theatrical experience more meaningful for children.
Brinda’s ultimate goal for Prime Stage Sprouts is making theater a catalyst for a meaningful experience. “This is more than putting on a play – let’s make something happen.”
Brinda hopes that Prime Stage Sprouts can perform two to three shows annually. There are already talks of beloved classics. The Boxcar Children and Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad are in the works for 2023.
See the link below for tickets and to learn more about Alex’s Lemonade Foundation. You can also follow Prime Stage Theater on Social Media.
While proof of vaccination will not be required, all patrons are asked to wear a mask for the safety of the unmasked actors.