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Children explore theatre

By Michelle Symington

MetroWest Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM For friends and business partners Lyle Pearsons and Margie Secora, their love of theater and children turned into the creation of a theater company about 17 years ago.

The two are still working together today, offering local children the chance to explore the world of theater and offering adults a chance to perform through their non-profit theater company Kit and Kaboodle Productions, Inc.

The theater company operates out of the Red Door Theatre, which sits on top of a hill on South Westfield Street on the grounds of Valley Community Church in Feeding Hills.

Pearsons and Secora met while participating in the local community theater circuit, which included the Suffield Players. At the time, Secora taught fourth grade music in Russell and Pearsons taught first and second grade in Suffield, Conn. Pearsons resides in Suffield currently. Secora is a resident of Southwick.

Secora explained that she and Pearsons realized how important drama and theater was to a child's education and it seemed to be getting pushed out of schools.

"This [theater company] allows us to still work with children and encourage them to have success in theater," she said.

Pearsons added, "We decided to have a career change."

Pearsons explained that he and Secora created Kit and Kaboodle Productions in 1989 in Suffield. He said they "piggy-backed" off of the Suffield Players at first and performed a few performances for two summers that way.

They then brought the script to Southwick Congregational Church, where they worked with a new group of children.

While putting on a production at the Southwick Congregational Church, Bob Murray, the pastor for Valley Community Church was in the audience.

Pearsons said that Murray approached him and Secora about the idea of turning a building on the grounds of the church into a performing arts center.

Pearsons and Secora looked at the space to see if they would be interested in calling it "home" for Kit and Kaboodle Productions.

Pearsons said the building, which was previously a day care center needed to be gutted. They removed the rooms and built a stage, creating the Red Door Theatre.

"We came here in 1990 and the first show was in 1991," he said.

Secora explained that Kit and Kaboodle Productions shared the space with the Agawam Repertory Theatre at first and took full responsibility for the theater when they left.

"We brought it up to full theater code five years ago," Secora said.

She explained that their theater group was strictly children's theater when they first started.

They would travel to libraries and schools to put on performances with different children. They would also host teachers workshops, according to Secora.

"Now, we run the gamut," she said.

Pearsons and Secora explained that they chose the name Kit and Kaboodle Productions because the company is just the two of them.

"We would bring everything," Pearsons said. "We were the whole Kit and Kaboodle."

When he and Secora first created the theater group, Pearsons said he did not expect to have a place to call home because they started as a travelling group.

He said the Red Door Theatre had suddenly fallen into their laps and they no longer had to lug the lights and other equipment around.

"Life, we suddenly thought, would be easier," he said. "What it did was make it easier to do more."

Secora added, "We feel blessed that someone found us and that we are able to rent this place."

The theater group is still run by Pearons and Secora, with a little help from volunteers and teens who have grown up performing at the Red Door Theatre.

Secora said that she and Pearsons design and build the sets, sew the costumes, direct the performances and write many of the scripts themselves.

Kit and Kaboodle Productions offers a variety of programs, including a junior children's theater program for children ages 5 to 8; a children's theater program for children ages 8 - 15; a Teen Ensemble Theatre program for teens and the Hilltop Players Family Theatre program for actors of ages 9 through adult.

The children's theater programs are tuition based, while the community and teen groups are audition based programs.

The theater group attracts actors of all ages from across the region, including western Massachusetts and northern Connecticut

Secora explained that children who participate in the programs, which vary from after-school programs to summer and school vacation programs, learn the whole process of putting on a production.

She explained that the program does not focus on character development or the study of acting, but it teaches children about the entire process.

At the end of each program, the children perform for an audience the younger children perform for their parents and the children ages 8 to 15 perform for a public audience.

Secora explained that one of the reasons she and Pearsons write many of the scripts is so that the children have an equal chance to participate.

She added that many of the scripts out there have about three major roles. The scripts she and Pearsons write include more roles so that children can have equal time on stage.

When they do purchase the rights to use a script, they may cast two or three children in the same role and alternate them with each scene.

For example, when a group of children performed Alice and Wonderland, two young actresses played Alice.

"In the end, the audience did not realize there were two children in the role," she said.

When the children sign up to participate in one of the programs, Secora said she and Pearsons let the families know on the form that when the children are at the theater, they will be productive.

She said the children know that the Red Door Theatre and Kit and Kaboodle Productions is considered a professional theater and that there will be a variety of different jobs they will do as part of the experience.

She added that the children know they also need to have self control.

"We rarely have to speak to someone," she said.

Secora said that one of the things the children learn is to have patience.

She said they are used to being able to talk whenever they want to, but they learn to stay quiet when back stage during a production.

One interesting aspect of the children's program for Secora is that the children range in age from 8 to 15.

"It is a wide spread of ages," she said. "It is neat to watch a 15-year-old befriend an 8-year-old."

Throughout each program, Pearsons and Secora have the children participate in a variety of activities that are part of putting on a production.

"They move from one activity to the next," Secora said, adding that there are usually a few activities taking place at the same time, whether it be sewing costumes or designing props.

"I love the kids," she said. "It is so interesting to watch it come alive in them and see the changes in them."

Pearsons said he enjoys being able to offer a creative outlet for children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to explore theater.

He added that there are activities such as sports, academics and outdoor activities that are widely accessible to children, but "there is so little in the arts for the young people."

According to Pearsons, many times, the audience sees a performance as "magical" and that a play "just happens."

Pearsons said the programs instill an appreciation for the theater in the children because they oftentimes come to a show, but may not realize the amount of work that everyone puts into it until they experience it themselves.

That idea is behind the slogan of Kit and Kaboodle Productions is: "The magic does not just happen, we make it happen."

He added that being part of the entire process gives the young performers a sense of ownership of the production.

Pearsons and Secora recognize that there are many local theater groups in the area, such as the Stanley Park Youth Theatre group. What they believe sets them apart from some of the youth theater groups is that they take children at the youngest age.

In addition to the program for 5 to 8 year old children, Kit and Kaboodle Productions also offers a Tiny Tales program an interactive theater performance by local actors for audience members under age 5.

Although the children under 5 are not in a program, when they are in the audience they become part of the performance.

"We make the theater audience friendly," Secora said. She added that the Tiny Tales Theatre usually performs fairy tales that allow the audience to participate.

Pearsons said the Tiny Tales Theatre is "our garden where we grow our actors."

Both Pearsons and Secora said that many children return to participate in the programs year after year and new children continuously sign up as well.

Although the two love what they do, the one aspect of running Kit and Kaboodle Productions that they dislike is that they are forced to turn away some children when the programs are full.

Secora said having to turn away children "happens all the time, especially in the summer."

She explained that reservations for the program are taken on a first-reserved/first served basis.

Reservations are accepted through the mail. Pearsons and Secora number the envelopes before opening them as they come in until the program is full.

Pearsons said that a child who has participated in the program 20 times does not have an advantage over newcomers. Everyone has an equal chance to participate.

Secora said they have a mailing list of about 1,500 people and people call the theater requesting applications.

For the summer program, Secora and Pearsons mail out the brochure in March, but will not accept applications post-marked before April 1.

Secora said it may sound like she and Pearsons are bragging at times, but she added, "I am proud of the program and proud of the kids. They really do a good job."

Secora said she also enjoys the fact that she and Pearsons are able to "make good, live theater affordable."

Tickets for the Hilltop Family Theatre are usually $10 and the Tiny Tales Theatre tickets are $5, for example.

Kit and Kaboodle Productions just wrapped up a school vacation program with three performances of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe over the weekend.

Upcoming performances include James and the Giant Peach, which will be performed by the children participating in the after school program. The program began Jan. 31 and runs through March 9. The performances will take place March 10-12. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Tiny Tales Theatre will present Little Red in the Hoods on March 11 at 11 a.m. Tickets are $5.

The Hilltop Family Theatre will present Godspell April 7-9. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $10 or $8 for seniors.

For more information about Kit and Kaboodle Productions or to learn more about the programs, call (413) 789-2026.