Willie Wonka once sang, “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.” Though they may not have a chocolate factory to tour, a theater may be the next best thing, as Plays and Players presents DREAM HOUSE: A RAINY DAY PLAY, that is pure imagination.
A product of the Philadelphia Local Artists for Youth (P.L.A.Y.) program, DREAM HOUSE is a collaboration of a local playwright, director and performer that is designed to unleash the creativity of young audiences and old alike.
It is the story of Jenn, played by Jennifer Macmillan, returning to her childhood row home in South Philly. The production uses a bag full of artistic tricks and treats to showcase how Jenn taps into her imagination to deal with bad memories, anxiety and fear.
“Her aunt died and left her the house. She wants to spruce it up and flip it to buy her dream house, but she gets stuck inside all day because of a thunderstorm,” said director Jack Tamburri. “She relearns imaginative play is a great way to fight fear and anxiety.”
Tamburri said his favorite part of directing the project was collaborating with Macmillan and playwright Jeremy Gable in rehearsals. The trio worked through the script, remembering the way they thought and acted as children.
“The three of us were a really strong team. We developed a short hand and a deep trust very, very quickly and we were all very much on the same team. We are very comfortable getting in each other’s sandboxes and helping each other work it out,” Tamburri said.
While the director had worked on youth projects before, Gable said it was the first time for him.
“Well, I have use to a lot less swear words, for one,” he said about the differences between writing for children and adults.
Diving deeper, he added, “I had to figure out, ‘How do I say this in the cleanest, easiest way possible?’ Not condescending, but easy to pick up on.”
For Gable, the play was a way to relate how theater impacted his life. From a young age, he use theater as a way to use his imagination outside of recess and playtime. He would see adults use imagination to work through whatever was going on in their lives. That experience translates to the stage in DREAM HOUSE, as Jenn uses imaginative play to work through her own demons.
Gable said he was happy to participate in the P.L.A.Y program, now in its second year. His relationship with Plays and Players goes back to being a playwright in residence with the theater, and when Artistic Director Dan Student approached him about writing for the program, they immediately started working through ideas.
“It’s funny, we started with gentrification, and how can we explain gentrification to young people,” Student said. “But it became clear that the play we wanted to write couldn’t do that. The concept wasn’t what mattered to young people… but we can deal with a new house and a strange environment.”
Helping children connect to their own imaginations, curiosity and fear through theater is what P.L.A.Y. is all about. Student gives an anecdote of his kindergarten teacher who would casually walk into the school yard, capture a cricket and bring it back inside without discussing it with the children. Before long, every student was back inside admiring and learning about the cricket without ever being told recess was over.
“He never told us we were about to lean anything, just engaged us in his own love of learning,” Student said. “That is the kind of theater we want. We can invite children to enjoy playing beside us and showcase what we do.” [Plays and Players Theater, 1714 Delancey Place] November 6-23, 2014; playsandplayers.org.