When I heard Seattle Children’s Theatre would offer Night of the Living Dead this season, I was puzzled.
Then I wondered if it was part of some sort of inside joke: Night of the Living Dead is aimed at a teen audience and is running side by side on the calendar with The Green Sheep, whose target audience is the toddler set.
So, sheep for the lambkins, and the undead for the . . . well, you can finish that sentence.
Despite coinciding with Halloween, producing Night of the Living Dead — based on the classic George Romero film — at a children’s theater is some daring programming. Seattle Children’s Theatre artistic director Linda Hartzell acknowledges she wanted to “try something different” with Night of the Living Dead, which might “shake up our audience a little bit.”
Daring and, as it turns out, not bereft of humor. Hartzell, who is directing the show, plays up the story’s campy side and the “so bad it’s good” nature of the piece.
“You know, it’s scary, it’s not really morbid; it’s ... campy, modern-day melodrama.” Hartzell makes a distinction between realistic horror, in which people are in peril, and “funny scary” akin to telling ghost stories. Night of the Living Dead falls in the latter category.
When I spoke with Hartzell about Night of the Living Dead, I was most curious about the motivation for programming it. I wanted to know: Zombies? For children? What the heck are you thinking?
As it turns out, Hartzell is the poster adult for how to “listen so kids will talk, and talk so kids will listen.”
SCT tries to do one teen show a year (such as last season’s Hamlet), but Hartzell says she’s gotten loads of requests from teens to program something fun — and funny — for them.
She saw Night of the Living Dead in Portland and decided to do it here because it is “like a Rocky Horror for this age group. We’re not doing it for the whole family; this will be something that teenagers come to see with their peer group.”
So, listening to kids so they’ll talk: check.
And that “talking so kids will listen” part? SCT has a Facebook page called “Zombies at SCT!” and SCT Drama School offered a weekend zombie workshop in September, open only to teens. The graduates of that workshop got walk-on zombie roles in the production. How cool is that?
One thing SCT is serious about is the 13-and-older age recommendation. There might be some kids younger than 13 who want to see Night of the Living Dead — and maybe some parents who think their tween can handle it — but Hartzell hopes they’ll attend one of the other shows this season instead.
“I really, really, really want this to be an experience for 13 and up,” Hartzell says. “I really mean that. We want the kids to have something for their age group.”
The Green Sheep, based on the Mem Fox/Judy Horacek book Where Is the Green Sheep?, was first offered as a collaboration between SCT and The Children’s Museum, Seattle, during the summer of 2007 and enjoyed phenomenal success.
Hartzell says that when she first saw this toddler show, in Australia, she recognized it as “a brilliant introduction to the theater experience.” While the show itself is engaging (for young and old, I’ve heard, from ‘07 attendees), the audience experience is entirely age appropriate.
According to Hartzell, very young children are often terrified in a theater when the house lights dim and the curtain goes up, but this sweet introduction accommodates wandering audience members and includes audience participation, music and a fully lit house.
“This lovely, lively, and imaginative piece is perfect for the little ones who haven’t mastered giving silent attention yet,” says Hartzell.
So, did I get my answer about motivation? Night of the Living Dead and The Green Sheep are additions to the regular SCT season and the populations the two shows serve — toddlers and teens — bookend the hardcore 5- to 12-year-old SCT audience. While many practical considerations went into the programming, the driving force behind these additional productions is to expand the season and the audience, so there’s something for everyone at SCT.
So, more art: More art is the answer.
Christine Johnson-Duell is a poet and the mother of an 11-year-old theater enthusiast.
Night of the Living Dead
Oct. 3–Nov. 1 (includes ASL-interpreted and 21-and-older shows) $20 ($24 for Halloween weekend) Strongly recommended for ages 13 and older.
The Green Sheep
Oct. 1–Nov. 3 (includes ASL-interpreted and Spanish-language performances) $13. Recommended for ages 1–4. Tickets and special-performance information: 206-441-3322, www.sct.org.