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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Nothing Random About This Act of Kindness: Kean Players to Present Theatre for Young Audiences

kean peter pan

Kean University senior Becca Dagnall is no stranger to the art of theatre or the art of teaching.  In fact, she’s a rare double major pursuing a B.A. in Theatre and New Jersey’s Early Childhood certification.  “I don’t see these as two separate disciplines,” Ms. Dagnall explained during a recent break from rehearsing Dennis Foon’s Kindness, a play for ages 6 and up. “All theatre teaches, and teaching is a form of performing.” Kean’s upcoming production, which Ms. Dagnall directs, will perform April 1 – 8 on the campus of Kean University, then tour to local elementary schools.

Kean’s Department of Theatre periodically offers a spring course called “Children’s Theatre on Tour,” a performance experience for academic credit.  The ensemble of students prepares the show from January until spring break, performs on campus, and then takes the play into the community. “I learned so much about engaging children when I performed in the 2012 tour of A Fairy Tale Life: The Story of Young Hans Christian Andersen,” stated Ms. Dagnall. “I saw the effect we were having on the young people in the audience, and I knew what we were doing was important.” It was after that experience Ms. Dagnall expressed interest in directing a tour herself. 

“The Department prepared me well to take on this challenge,” said Ms. Dagnall.  “I’m bringing everything I learned in the last four years to the project.”  A Piscataway native graduating in May, Ms. Dagnall selected the play, and - during the fall of 2014 - prepared with Theatre Education professor and advisor Rachel Evans before auditioning the actors.  From the beginning of this semester, her last one at Kean, Ms. Dagnall has been leading the design and rehearsal process.

Kindness, by playwright and screenwriter Dennis Foon (the former artistic director of Green Thumb Theatre), uses the real-world experiences of young people to address the importance of compassion and empathy in children’s development.  Touching on issues like bullying, loss, and self-esteem, Kindness depicts a group of youngsters as they navigate through relationships and feelings.  With twelve Kean students in the cast, the production will run in the Zella Fry Theatre before hitting the road for ten days in schools from Paterson to Elizabeth. 

When it came to inventing ideas for the look of the play, Ms. Dagnall knew she wanted to make the production elements as simple as possible.  “I call it ‘rucksack theatre’ - everything the actors need, like costumes and props, should fit in backpacks,” said Ms. Dagnall. “I’m using brightly colored hand-prints as the main visual image, hoping the message of ‘lending a hand’ gets through to the audience.”

The theme of the project seems to be reaching the actors as well, according to participant Mike Antonelli. “Becca encouraged us to practice random acts of kindness, called RAKs, whenever we were outside of rehearsals,” said Mr. Antonelli, a North Arlington junior who wants to be a theatre teacher when finished at Kean in May 2016. “Not only was I more aware of my own unkindness sometimes, but I saw new chances to do little things to help others. I can see how doing plays like Kindness could be good for the high school students I hope to teach. We could use performing theatre as its own act of kindness.”

In addition to Ms. Dagnall and Mr. Antonelli, the production involves Kean students Kerry Borowski, Charlie Centinaro, Chris DeBono, Tristina DiBlasio, Brianna Garrick, DeAngelo Miller, Marissa Parrot, Matt Petrassi, Morgan Rabush, Lorin Tompkins, Kyiana Vargas, and Mark Zebro.

Kindness performs in The Zella Fry Theatre, located in Vaughn Eames Hall on Kean University’s main campus at 1000 Morris Avenue, on April 1 at 10:00am, April 6 at 5pm and 7pm, April 7 at 5pm, and April 8 at 10am.  Tickets are available at the Kean Stage Box Office, located in Wilkins Theatre; online at www.keanstage.com; and by phone at (908) 737 – 7469. Tickets are $15 for the general public and $10 for Kean University students and faculty.

Photo: Kean University students in the Department of Theatre's February production of Peter Pan, directed by Holly Logue. Photo by Ben Gancsos

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