STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
It’s OK to feel what you feel. That’s the message of “Rainbowtown,” a new play taking the Act II Playhouse stage.
The play tells the story of Queen Annie. She lives in Greytown, where everything is grey and nobody shows emotion. One day, she sees a rainbow and realizes there’s a more colorful world out there, so she sets out to find a new town to build a palace in. Along the way, she stops in towns featuring only one color and one emotion (in Redtown, everybody’s always excited and in Orangetown, everybody’s always angry, and so on). So what will emotions be like in Rainbowtown?
Carrie Nielsen, of Bryn Mawr, wrote the play specifically for preschool-aged kids (up to age 8 will enjoy it most). She thinks there aren’t enough plays aimed at that age group. She thought emotions would be a good topic.
“There’s all this research now suggesting that emotional intelligence is just as important for success as IQ, so helping young kids build those skills is really valuable,” she said.
This is the first play Nielsen has written, though she assisted Bill D’Agostino (who’s her husband) in his writing of “Murray the Elf and the Case of the Stolen Sleighbells,” which Act II produced this past Christmas.
Nielsen, who is an Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at Cabrini College, loves theater and literature. That inspired her to write, along with her two-and-a-half year old daughter, Celia.
“She loves plays and performances of all kinds,” Nielsen said. “I think there’s this idea that little kids can’t sit still for a play, but lots of them can, and it seems like a shame to exclude them from the experience of theater.”
And getting kids to appreciate theater at a young age will end up creating and sustaining the next generation of theater lovers.
“As an audience member, I love the theater. It makes me think and brings me joy. I want to bring that experience to kids,” she said. “Habits form early, and I think that we should expose kids to reading and the arts as much as possible, because the world is a better place if it’s full of adults who love reading and the arts.”
One adult who loves reading and the arts is Amanda Curry, who plays Queen Annie. She likes the Queen, who’s sweet and kind and wanting to “live in a new place where she can experience every emotion and truly experience the beauty of the world,” she said. She relates to her, too.
“She’s very enthusiastic, imaginative, expressive, and silly, which tends to describe me pretty accurately as well,” she said. “This role is just so much fun to play.”
Curry’s excited to bring theater to a younger audience.
“Carrie has written such a smart, developmentally-appropriate play for preschoolers and their families that’s not only engaging, hilarious, and fun, but also really opens up a dialogue about dealing with emotions,” she said.
Curry loves how interactive the show is. Each child receives a colored banner to wave when Queen Annie visits each particular town. And kids (and maybe even a parent or two) will be invited on stage to help tell the story with movement or sound.
Acting for kids is not new for Curry, who also works as Director of Communications for the Delaware College of Art and Design. She was a teacher for about three years before going back to grad school for Theater at Villanova. She has acted for several years in the region and enjoys children’s productions the most. She thinks theater can be a powerful education tool.
“I think that theater and live performance is such an incredible medium with which to help little humans, especially, grow emotionally and psychologically,” she said. “Not only is it a lot of fun, but I think it’s hugely important preschoolers be given developmentally- appropriate work that speaks to them in a smart, fun, and engaging way.”
And though it can teach, theater also can just entertain. Both women hope that kids will enjoy the show.
“It’s been so much fun writing a silly, goofy play for little kids,” Nielsen said. “If it helps them learn how to talk about their feelings, that’s great, but mostly I hope they have fun.”
IF YOU GO
When: 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. April 11 and 18; 3 p.m. April 12 and 19
Where: Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler.
Tickets: $8 for kids, $10 for seniors and $12 for adults
Info.: Call (215) 654-0200 or visit www.act2.org.