Touring a show for young audiences is not an easy thing to do, but it's rewarding as hell. When all is said and done, we will have a total of 29 performances of The Pickle Patch Bathtub by the time this tour ends. This is a musical that I wrote with my incredible, talented sister, Karen Buechele, who wrote the songs, based on the book by Frances Kennedy. We created it about ten years ago for the Great Midwestern Educational Theatre Company to tour, and that company toured it for TWO seasons all around eastern Iowa. This show has great music, an actual antique 1920's bathtub, dance, singing, sound effects, lots of cucumbers, and props made of tin, wood, cloth -- but no plastic! The show is about 38 minutes long, depending on the audience response.
Last weekend we had five public performances which were mostly attended by college students who were required to see it for a course. The lack of experience with live theatre in Bakersfield was quite evident: the audience had no idea how to respond. It was deadly. At the first public performance, the show, which has been delighting student audiences for weeks, drew absolutely no response from the audience. Nothing. Nada. No laughter, no applause after big song-and-dance numbers, nothing. I was in shock and the actors were freaked out! This was especially weird because the audience was SO close to the actors -- within arm's reach. After that performance, I introduced the show to the other audiences the same way I do at a school -- I "remind" the child audiences that watching live theatre is different from watching TV or a movie, because the actors can see and hear them. So, they have the responsibility to respond appropriately so the actors know how they're doing -- laugh if it's funny, applaud after a song-and-dance if they like it. After that, the audience response was terrific!
In preparing my own college classes to see live theatre here, I actually tell them the same thing. I have asked each class: who has never seen live theatre before? 80-90% of them raise their hands. I guess that stands to reason! In this city of 350,000 there are only 4 or 5 theatres that I can think of, and none of them very big: Bakersfield Community Theatre, the Empty Space, Starz dinner theatre, Ovation theatre, and the Gaslight Melodrama. I might be missing one or two. Of course, there's the big Rabobank arena which brings in crap like My Little Pony, Sesame Street Live! or Power Rangers on Ice. Big commercial shows like these fry my biscuits. [insert angry emoji here] It's so rare here to see arts that take the child's experience and perspective seriously. One of my students remembers seeing a storyteller come to his school when he was a kid, and a magician, too. But no theatre for young audiences. Hmmm.... I might have to do something to change that. TYA is, in my opinion, still the freshest, most inspiring and imaginative theatre being produced today. Although I find the constraints of touring somewhat limiting from an aesthetic standpoint, the mission of delivering the experience to the children here (as many as possible!) outweighs the limitations of whatever will fit in the van.