It Is Fun to Have Fun: Q&A with Seattle Children's Theatre's Linda Hartzell
Editor's note: Seattle Children's Theatre's new season kicks off this week with Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat, which opens on Thursday, September 27. As part of our continuing coverage of family arts this fall, we conducted a Q&A with Seattle Children's Theatre's artistic director Linda Hartzell about this production in particular, and about taking kids to the theater in general.
Why did you choose to kick off your season with Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat?
Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat is a terrific show for all ages and launches the season with familiarity, laughter and tremendous crowd appeal. We often open our season with a show that welcomes younger ages, recognizing that the September time frame is particularly busy for older students and their parents.
And why the National Theatre production?
The National Theatre of Great Britain has a tremendous reputation, having produced such phenomenal shows as War Horse and Oklahoma! Over the past decade, both the National Theatre of Great Britain and Royal Shakespeare Company have done wonderful programming for younger audiences and we’ve started to look to their organizations for programming ideas. Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat is a wonderfully imaginative and sophisticated production, which we’re thrilled to remount with local direction and local actors, for our Puget Sound audience.
Is there a minimum age you’d recommend to attend the show?
Children as young as 3 years old will enjoy the show. It’s visually and audibly entertaining, the storyline is easy to follow and kids appreciate the rhyming. There is great physical activity and comedic moments with some of the best actors in town. And it's under an hour length with no intermission.
The production is very visual with much physical comedy. As with the book, there is very purposeful conversation with select words, giving a greater impact to the blues/jazz music and sophisticated sound effects.
[As far as special effects] be sure to watch that fish! Kids will love the bubbles. Kids will be mesmerized by the Picking-Up Machine, and they'll wonder the mechanics of how the rake bends and just how the Cat can really balance all of those objects. The kite sequence will also be a particular crowd-pleaser.
Beyond the obvious – reading The Cat in the Hat together – how might parents get kids excited about the show?
Yes, the biggest preparation would be to share the book together. For young ones, the book and the production might start a conversation about words and rhyming. For the older ages, it could be a launching point for bigger discussions about what is real and not and what they would do if someone came to their door if a parent wasn’t home. As with all of our shows, we hope the play sparks an interest in both the theatrical process and creative thinking.
General tips on attending theater with young kids?
- Let them know what they can expect, both in terms of the theater and play.
- Prepare your children to sit in seats, expect lights to dim and be “active” audience members (clapping, etc. when appropriate).
- If possible, discussing a bit of the play’s plot or theme beforehand helps kids more easily follow the storyline.
- Make sure children know that although the actors are real, what is happening on stage is make-believe.
- Encourage them eat a snack before attending the performance and take them to the restroom right before the show starts.
What are some ways that children’s theater changed in the past decade? What are some new trends to watch out for?
The quality of the scripts and artistry has been elevated. Playwrights and artisans that are some of the most accomplished are drawn to the creativity and theater for young audiences. Also thanks to new technology, we’re able to incorporate more sophisticated animation and special effects with what happens on stage. Last year, actors were able to interact with, and change, projected images throughout Harold and the Purple Crayon, for example.
What are you most excited about in terms of SCT’s fall season?
We always hope our plays ignite important discussions. This season we have some really powerful and timely themes – bullying, family homelessness, impacts of war on families – which I think will really get young people talking. We also have some fabulous interactive productions for the very young.
Why should parents consider taking their kids to the theater?
It may sound cliché, but it’s true: theater offers an opportunity to connect with literature, community, family, one another and the world at large. Arts education is a vital component to a child’s development and particularly, the growth of independent and creative thinking. Successful shows stimulate a child’s imagination while often introducing new concepts and new cultures.
SCT's The Cat in the Hat