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Quirky characters teach valuable lessons to Boston kids

January 22, 2010

Published by Boston University Community Service Center

Three orange and blue cardboard fish play hide and seek: “one sea cucumber, two cucumber…” they call.

A boy doesn’t want to do his homework or go to bed early: “I wish I had new parents,” he writes in his diary.

These characters join a slew of others – a silver spandex-clad shooting star, “Helga the Healthy Helper” and southern-drawling school children, among others in the Community Service Center’s Children’s Theatre. In five skits, they teach valuable lessons to children across Boston, before bursting into choreographed dance routines.

“The plays are supposed to be funny, but we want the kids to get something from them as well,” says Matt Donnelly, Children’s Theatre program manager.

Divided into five troupes, 47 student volunteers spent the semester writing sketches for young children.

“The volunteers perform for kids in places that wouldn’t have an opportunity like this otherwise,” says Donnelly, a senior in the College of Communication.

The troupes travel to hospitals, after-school programs and domestic abuse shelters to perform. Volunteers do not need theatre experience to participate. They don’t join the program for an artistic outlet; they do instead to bond with the kids.

“We teach kids in a fun way,” says senior Barbara Moreno, a Children’s Theatre volunteer. “Our plays are about issues that kids deal with but have no forum to talk about. These are things teachers just lecture.”

In Moreno’s play, kids travel to a fantasized vegetable land where they learn how to eat healthfully. In another, children go on a space adventure, use their imagination instead of sitting in front of the TV. All the plays have a moral value.

Each troupe performed three times at the end of the semester, at three different locations. The space adventure group visited a subsidized day care center, a house for abused women, and an elementary school.

In early November before heading out on location, the volunteers gathered for a dress rehearsal.

“It’s kind of tradition to make it a little bit more risqué, maybe use some jokes that you wouldn’t necessarily use on site,” says Donnelly.

At the dress rehearsal, performers stifled giggles mid-line as they showed fellow troupes and friends their final products.

“I remind the volunteers when they get stressed out that the kids will laugh at anything,” says Donnelly. “Just enjoy it with a good attitude and they’ll be happy you came.”

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