by Lorie Lewis Ham
Formed in Visalia in 1991 by Susan Sluka, The Enchanted Playhouse Theatre Company is beginning its 19th season this month as a theater company dedicated solely to children’s theater. They produce four to five shows a year, all based on family/children’s literature.
According to Enchanted Playhouse’s current board president Donald Williams, Susan started the company because of the lack of live children’s theater in the area at the time. He believes that live children’s theater has two major benefits. The first is that children/youth attending get the opportunity to see stories they may or may not be familiar with, and typically, the result is that they are encouraged to read the book. “Our local Borders store has commented that sales of children’s books often spike during and shortly after a production. Any production you come to in our theater is appropriate for anyone age five and up. You can’t say that about too many theaters anywhere.”
The second benefit is for those who perform in the show. “It is a great way to develop one’s talents and help you feel more comfortable with public speaking,” continued Don. “Two of our former regular cast members now teach – one teaches theater in Fresno and the other teaches stage design and construction at College of the Sequoias. A third is in charge of theater set-up, lighting and sound design, etc. for the Visalia Unified School District theaters. Many others have gone on to be involved in theater or music in some capacity. Their participation in Enchanted Playhouse productions contributed to that.”
Donald stated that they try to pick stories from the California elementary school reading list to help teachers sell the idea of coming to a show to their administration. In addition, they try to pick one show with a young boy focus and one with a young girl focus each season. When possible, they give preference to locally written productions, of which they have done several including Chris Mangels one man show of A Christmas Carol which they will be producing for the second time this Christmas.
Each production holds eight public performances, and anywhere from four to eight school productions, which are held Thursday and Friday mornings during the run of the show. Tickets for school productions are discounted to $5.00 to allow more schools to participate. The Enchanted Playhouse season runs from October through May to allow for school participation. Each production takes up to nine to 10 weeks of their calendar to allow for rehearsals, set construction, and the three-week performance period. Summers are dedicated to acting workshops for youth five and up.
Niko East has been involved with Enchanted for ten years, since the age of ten. His first production was Hansel and Gretel. “The Playhouse is great because you get to see actors in the community that you might not normally see. It is a great place because it appeals to all ages. The shows are family friendly and there are no age limits for auditions. It’s always a friendly place and is an underrated gem in our community.”
Donald first got involved through his nephews in 1998 when they encouraged him to audition with them for Robin Hood. “I was cast as the Bishop of Hereford while one of my nephews was cast as Alan a’Dale, and had a fantastic time. My nephew met his future wife in this production. After that show, I was hooked and invited to join the board.”
For those working at Enchanted, it is primarily a labor of love as everyone is a volunteer. While they do pay small stipends to the directors and technical crew, Donald said the amounts in no way make up for the amount of time that must be put in. “All of the cast, lobby volunteers, board members, poster/program/brochure designers, etc. are 100% volunteer labor.”
Robert Langarica got involved with the company in 1997 in Charlotte’s Web. So far, he has done eight shows. The first show of this season, The Phantom Tollbooth, will be his directing debut. While he has also been involved with other local theater companies, he stated that Enchanted will always have a special place in his heart because of all the shows he has done there, the people he has worked with, and friends he has made. “However it can be a little trying sometimes – working with kids can really age you.
“Although I am not too bad at it, I have never been the first to volunteer to work with kids. The mentality of a lot of the people that auditioned was that this is kid’s theatre, of, by and for the kids; it’s been hard trying to change the mentality back to what it once was. That is that the Enchanted Playhouse is a place where good shows are performed that the entire family can enjoy; a place where young talented individuals have an opportunity to grow as artists, never excluding the kids, but not making it only about kids.”
Their first three years of productions were held at the local Rotary Theatre, but they now perform at the Main Street Theater in downtown Visalia at 307 E. Main Street. Tickets are $8 at the door or $7 if purchased in advance at Valhalla Restaurant, Espi’s Kids, Party City (all in Visalia) or Wildflower Café in Exeter. They can also be purchased in advance on their website using PayPal. Groups of 15 or more that call ahead are given a discounted $5 rate.
The Phantom Tollbooth opens October 15 and runs through the 30th. The rest of the shows this season are, A Christmas Carol, Cinderella and A Walk In The Woods. Check KRL’s event calendar for specific dates. Information about auditions and acting workshops can also be found on the Enchanted Playhouse website. Starting in November, they will also be collaborating with another organization to provide chamber music productions three to four times throughout the year.
Special Note: The Enchanted Playhouse was my children’s introduction to theater when they were very young. They loved it and have seen many shows there through the years. My daughter, Jessica, who also writes for KRL, is now a senior in high school and plans on pursuing theater as a career. The shows at Enchanted are fun, well done, and a great theater experience for the entire family.