A revolutionary new wave of theatre is heading to North Dakota State’s campus next summer.
Known as Theatre for the Very Young Audiences (TVYA), the theatre program is directed toward children ages 18 months to 4 years old.
Jess Jung, assistant professor of directing and artistic director at Theatre NDSU, first got the idea to create a play for the very young when she worked in Washington, D.C.
However, it wasn’t until last May that Jung got the inspiration that eventually led to her applying for, and receiving, the grant that would fund her idea.
In October, the Arts Partnership, a nonprofit group in Fargo-Moorhead that supports artists and funds grants, awarded Jung $1,250 to create an adaptation of “The Ugly Duckling.”
Jung chose “The Ugly Duckling” because it offered opportunities for her to be creative with her adaptation, but also because it was a recognizable title.
“It’s a title. It’s something that everybody kind of already knows, but I think there’s so many different versions of it already that we can play within it,” she explained. “Ultimately, it’s about belonging and being okay with your differences, and I think that’s awesome. I think that that, in it’s really minute form, is such a bigger conversation in our world. It just feels like the right play, the right story for all those reasons.”
The closest place someone could see theatre made for the very young is the Stages Theatre Company in Hopkins, Minnesota or the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Jung’s adaptation will be the first in North Dakota and the city of Fargo, and marks a new way for people to interact with theatre.
“(W)e already have to teach the audience that they can come to this and how they come to this, because parents with toddlers already think they can’t come to the theatre,” Jung said.
Theatre NDSU’s adaptation of “The Ugly Duckling” will be short — about 30 minutes long. It will also incorporate movement over language to match the language development of the audience. The seating will also allow for children to sit on their parent’s lap.
Interaction is also a huge portion of Theatre for the Very Young, and will be incorporated throughout Jung’s play.
“(T)he kids will have at least one moment where they will go on stage and help the characters in the show solve the story, solve the problem that’s in the play,” Jung said. “Inspiring them to create and imagine is a number one goal of this.”
Theatre NDSU is not unused to creating plays for younger crowds. Last year, their first play of the season was “Peter Pan,” and this spring, they’ll be performing “Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!”
However, Theatre for the Very Young poses a unique challenge for the actors involved in the production, especially with audience interaction as a crucial portion of the action.
“It actually takes a really special actor to be able to embrace all of that,” Jung said.
Jung is working with Chelsea Pace, assistant professor of movement, and Keanna Ellsely. Jung has also been working closely with the Center for Child Development and the human development and family sciences department at NDSU.
“This first semester is about creating materials,” Jung said. “We’re going to create as much of a rough draft as we can. And then next semester is going to be about presenting it to kids and making the final draft based on what the audience engages in most. The Center for Child Development is open to us coming over and presenting stuff to them.”
The Center also has observation rooms where Jung can come and watch the kids play and interact with each other and their environment.
“I asked Deb (Debra Habedank; director of the Center for Child Development) for resources as well, and she was like, ‘I think the best thing for you is to see how they play,'” Jung said. “I was like, that’s really smart. That’s why you’re the director.”
Going into the future, Jung hopes the play can travel beyond NDSU’s campus and into the surrounding community, to begin with.
“These shows are meant, because they’re small, they can travel,” Jung said. “In my wildest dreams, this will travel from here and go a bunch of other places. I don’t know what those are.”
Jung has already been in discussion with the Fargo Public Libraries to bring the show to the different branches in the library system.
It won’t be until summer 2018 that we see the fruition of Jung’s idea, and the beginning of what’s sure to be a long-standing tradition at NDSU.
For updates on Theatre NDSU, visit their Facebook page.