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Catching up with kids’ theatre – an interview with Janet Marie & mArchibald

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We are all painfully aware of the the precarious nature of professional theatre and the ongoing challenge of funding high-quality productions. That also makes us pause and gratefully reflect on the many theatrical entities that are in healthy working order. As we count our theatre blessings, chief among them is a particular boon to the local children’s theatre scene – Children’s Theatre of Michigan. Specifically, we are thinking of Janet Marie and mArchibald McCarty – the creators of “Boogah and Hoogah” and many other family-friendly, theatre-worthy productions.

Back in 1987, when Janet Marie and Janet mArchibald (m’Arch) McCarty were gainfully employed with things like Michigan Opera Theatre and The Michigan Renaissance Festival, they started a kids’ theatre company called theatretc. This morphed into Imagination Theatre etc, which more recently became Children’s Theatre of Michigan. Across the years, they have refined a distinctive production ethic that features original songs and stories written to engage even the youngest, wiggliest little theatre patron. It’s a winning formula.

Their first original show – called “Imagine That!” – was created more than 25 years ago. From a first performance for local kids in a neighbor’s living room, they quickly expanded to elementary schools, libraries and festivals around the Metro Detroit area. Within five years, the troupe was performing more than 100 shows a year and had launched larger-scale productions in theaters and shopping centers.

Now, they are engaging with new sponsors and launching all-new productions. We reached out for an interview to glean the secret of their success – and find out more about what’s cooking in the here and now.

Q: Knowing that you’ve produced different shows with different messages, what do you think your shows have in common – what sets your productions apart?

JM & m’Arch: Our shows, as you say, always have a message, and we try to integrate the message into the flow of the show. The message is the foundation, the current that flows under and through. Often it’s unstated and is delivered through our personalities, the way we relate to each other and to the audience, and certainly in the choice of stories and songs we present. Because we write most of the songs and stories in our shows, we can tailor the form, style and content to our audience, and can gently and memorably deliver the message, whether it’s “eat healthy food” or “actively play” or “choose to be kind” or “say please and thank you” and all sorts of other important things.

Those messages, by the way, are fully half of the point of every one of our shows. First we aim to amuse, engage, and entertain our audience—who are kids from birth to about 8 or 10 years old. When they join us in wiggling, and giggling, and singing and dancing we know we’re doing our job. Second we always endeavor to use our time with them responsibly, to deliver these important messages in our songs and stories, and most importantly, by example.

Q: In general, what’s been going on with Children’s Theatre of Michigan? You guys just don’t slow down!

JM & m’Arch: We spent many happy years as “the really big everything company” at Somerset Collection, and before that at Twelve Oaks, Lakeside, Briarwood and Fairlane Malls, doing all the shows, décor, Santa and Bunny visits, and lots of other customer service and entertainment programs. As the years went by, however, we found that we weren’t doing as much entertaining and interacting with kids and parents as we’d set out to do—we were doing more administrative stuff and less performing. We have always been told that we have an unique and valuable voice and presence in our performing, and we’ve always concentrated on doing live shows for and with the very youngest kids, so we’ve decided that it’s time for us to get back on a full-time basis into the world of doing our Musical-Story-Theatre shows in schools, preschools, libraries, festivals and theaters around the state.

During the summer months we perform in a number of community performance series, mostly around the Metro Detroit area. This summer we’re starting a Sunday afternoon series for very young children and families in our new hometown of Clarkston. It’s called “Funshine Summertime Shows” and we’ve gotten a lot of support, both financially from local businesses (and we’d love to give them as much credit as possible for stepping up and making this possible), as well as on a grassroots level from families in the area that are really excited about having live entertainment in the community presented specifically for their kids. We’re thrilled that they’re helping to spread the word.

We’re starting this year with the two shows (listed below), performed at the gazebo in Depot Park, in downtown Clarkston, and we plan on expanding it to more shows in coming years.

This year we’re presenting:

  • Sunday July 13, 2:00 pm “Kevin Devine – Musical Man of Many Hats” and...
  • Sunday July 20, 2:00 pm “Janet Marie and mArchibald’s Imagination Celebration!”

At the same time we’re writing, building, and rehearsing shows for schools—“healthy ME!”, preschools—“Super ME!”, and theatres—“Boogah and Hoogah’s House”, AND we’re actively soliciting sponsors to help us bring these shows to kids and families around the state…in case there are any corporate and community angels reading along who might be interested in getting involved!

Q. Details please?

JM & m’Arch: “Healthy ME!” is an hour-long sing-along, do-along, health, fitness and fun assembly program for kids in grades K-5. A team of lovable, easily identifiable role model characters (Professor Guesser, Bizabelle Fidget, and Kati-o Radio) present the essential messages “Eat Good Food, Exercise and Play, Get Along With Friends and Family, and Be The Best ME I can Be!” Nearly one million Michigan students have already enjoyed “Healthy ME!” presentations and this is a brand-new production that engages, amuses, and sets the tone for a lifetime of health and fitness.

“Super ME!” is similar in message to “Healthy ME!” but is presented in songs and stories that are specially tailored to the developmental needs and abilities of preschool kids. This show is shorter in length (30 minutes) and is presented in a very “up-close” and “conversational” manner, using sing-along songs and lots of movement, to deliver the concepts of health, fitness, and fun to this very young audience in a way that’s memorable, understandable, and sustainable.

Since 1989 we have presented “Boogah and Hoogah” shows as an annual Halloween tradition in schools and shopping centers. This year we’re thrilled to present the antics of our “goofy goblins” in historic theatres around the state. We’re still negotiating with a couple of venues, but we will definitely be performing on Sunday October 19 at 1 p.m. at the Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids, and on Sunday November 2 at 4 p.m. at the Music Hall Center in Detroit. This is also a landmark year for Boogah and Hoogah, because for the very first time we’ll be telling the story of how they first met and developed their odd and amusing friendship. Lots of silly-spooky adventure, ten brand new sing-along songs, and a schnazzy new set are all in the works to provide an exciting reunion for our longtime “little monsters”, and a sparkling introduction to lots of new friends.

In the coming year we also plan more fully staged shows in theatres around the state. Our goal is to have a regular season of shows for very young audiences and their families that tours to communities around the state several times a year. Our first season will include “Tales from Fairweather Meadow” (the story of Esther Bunnington and her friends The Little Red Hen, Auntie Leecia Badgerly, and Steadythere Teddybear) in the springtime; more adventures of Boogah and Hoogah in the Fall; and an exciting Christmastime musical called “There’s a Party at Fezziwig’s”. It’s pretty ambitious, but we have lots of talented partners, and there are lots of kids and families with whom we want to share these shows and celebrations.

Q: Any hope of seeing these characters on TV/Cable/Streaming Online, etc.?

JM & m’Arch: We hope to expand the messages of “Healthy ME!” and “Super ME!” with supplemental online material…sing-along songs from the shows, menus and other fun. AND we are putting the finishing touches on a half-dozen episodes of “Boogah and Hoogah’s House” that we plan to stream on some platform beginning this fall. Details are still being worked out, but the shows have had a lot of positive responses from little friends that have watched the unfinished versions. Stay tuned to our website (www.CTofM.com) and “Like” us on Facebook for more details!

Q: Cool. Anything you want to add about what sets you apart?

JM & m’Arch: What sets us apart from most Youth Theater is that everything we do is written, designed, directed, composed, and performed for the very youngest kids possible. Bigger kids and adults love this stuff too, but that’s a happy bonus.

Everybody knows that children from birth to about age 5 are little information sponges…soaking up everything they see, feel and hear; developing skills, beliefs, attitudes, and abilities that will define who they will become as grownups. We actively engage and provide them with songs, stories, and messages that will spark their imagination and creativity, and will make them happier, healthier and more successful.

We model positive behavior and relationships onstage and off--to paraphrase the words of St. Francis of Assisi, we are always preaching these messages…and occasionally we use words to do so.

Our thanks to Janet Marie & m’Archibald for the update. Be sure to treat the kids in your life to a worthwhile theatre experience with Children’s Theatre of Michigan. Catch them locally in Clarkston, at Detroit’s Music Hall, or visit their website for updates.

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