Pushcart Players, New Jersey’s Emmy nominated and award-winning touring theater for young audiences presents “Stone Soup…and other stories” at 10:30 am on Wednesday, February 8 at Union County Performing Arts Center, Rahway NJ.
“Stone Soup…” is a charming musical compilation of short literary favorites from Africa, India, Eastern Europe and the United States of America. Filled with exuberant music, fantasy, and comic plot lines, each tale introduces the spirit and customs of these unique cultures. In so doing, the production provides a springboard for reading and subsequent literacy-related activities.
“The play gently raises universal value clarification issues,” said Ruth Fost, Pushcart’s founder and co-author of the play. “Family audiences will be delighted by the show. Then they’ll find themselves discussing why certain characters made certain choices, and how outcomes would have differed with different behavior. That being said, the show is still a fun-filled romp through delightful stories.”
The cast of “Stone Soup…and other stories” includes: Oscar Castillo, Christina Gordon, Chris Morrissey and Phebe Taylor. Artistic director Paul Whelihan guides the production. Orchestrations are by Tony Award-winner, Larry Hochman. Choreography is by Susie Paplow.
Oscar Castillo, a graduate of Kean University with a BFA in theatre, co-founded The Theatre Project and performs frequently throughout NYC with Peculiar Works Productions. Christina Gordon is a New Jersey native with an M.F.A. in Acting from Rutgers University/ Mason Gross School of the Arts. She’s performed in “Good People” (The Public Theatre & Shadowland Theatre), “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “As You Like It” and “Reasons to be Pretty.” Television credits include: “HAPPYish,” “Person of Interest” and “Guiding Light.” She can be seen in the films “I Hate Being Black” (which she co-wrote and produced) and “Damsel.”
Chris Morrissey recently graduated with a BFA in Musical Theatre from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) where he received the Lehman Engel Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre. Chris has performed at venues across the country including Paper Mill Playhouse, Lincoln Center, and the Kennedy Center. Phebe Taylor has been a Pushcart Player since 2004. She was recently seen flying around as Peter in “Peter Pan” at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre. A company member of the Heartland Actors’ Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis, she appears in their summer Shakespeare productions, and is a frequent performer at Indianapolis’ Phoenix Theatre, in such shows as “Urinetown,” “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” “The Zippers of Zoomerville,” “Boston Marriage,” “Peter and the Starcatcher,” and the National New Play Network’s “Rolling World Premiere” of “End Days”.
Paul Whelihan directs, stage-manages and performs off-Broadway (47th Street Theater, 59 East 59 Theatres, NY Fringe Festival, 54 Below) and regionally (Royal Poincianna Playhouse, Broward Center for the Arts, Centenary Stage, The Bickford Theatre, The Growing Stage, Luna Stage Company, Forum Cultural Arts Center, Quillo Arts Center, Premiere Stages, Dreamcatcher Rep) in musicals, dramas, and original works. He has appeared in locally produced television, film, and web series projects.
Larry Hochman is the Tony Award-winner for orchestrations for “She Loves Me” (2016 revival) and Tony and Drama Desk award-winner for “The Book of Mormon.” He received Tony nominations for “The Scottsboro Boys,” “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” (Hochman also received Drama Desk nominations for both), “Fiddler on the Roof” (2004 revival) and “A Class Act.” Larry composed additional music for Disney’s “Little Mermaid,’ for Stephen Spielberg‘s “Amazing Stories” and for numerous celebrity concerts. Hochman’s other awards include the ASCAP Award for Musical Theater (“One Man Band”), 4 Emmy Awards for “The Wonder Pets” television series, and a Bistro Award for composing “One Man Band.”
Pushcart Players is the award-winning professional touring theater company specializing in arts education for children. Twice nominated for an Emmy©, Pushcart is the recipient of numerous state and private awards for excellence and innovation. A social-profit organization founded in 1974, Pushcart brings substantive musical theater, workshops, and residencies to young people and their families in schools and theaters nationwide. The company has traveled more than 6 million miles nationally and abroad, from the nation’s White House to the rural red schoolhouse.
Pushcart Players addresses social studies, literature, history, the Autism spectrum, special educational needs, and values clarification for young people, their families, and their educators. All performances by professional artists (Actors’ Equity Association) are supported by study guides, post-performance assessments and other supplemental materials, and adapt to any location with innovative scenery, lighting and sound systems.
Union County Performing Arts Center provides quality programming and performances that are educational, affordable and enrich the arts within the diverse community. The Center offers musicals and plays presented by NJ theater troupes, classic and independent film presentations, multicultural programs and events, and live music concerts (www.ucpac.org). All Pushcart Players performances take place in UCPAC’s mainstage theater, a grand venue listed in both state and national registers of historic sites. Built in 1928, it is the centerpiece of the recently established arts district of Rahway.
UCPAC is located at 1601 Irving Street | Rahway. Single tickets are $15, with discounts for groups of ten or more. For single tickets, visit the UCPAC website or call the box office at 732-499-8226. For group sales, contact Pushcart Players at 973-857-1115.
Pushcart Players, New Jersey’s Emmy nominated and award-winning touring theater for young audiences, has received a generous grant from The Whitehill Foundation (Montclair) to support performances of their latest productions and in-school theater education programs.
Founded in 1999, The Whitehill Foundation is a private nonprofit organization that awards grants in the areas of elementary and secondary education, health, human services, and sports and recreation. The Foundation supports children and youth, economically disadvantaged people, low income and poor people, academics, and students.
“We are very grateful for The Whitehill Foundation’s generosity,” said Paul Whelihan, Pushcart’s producing artistic director. “Social-profit organizations like Pushcart rely on support from the enlightened foundation, government, and corporate sectors. It is through their involvement that we are able to reach out to facilities that could otherwise not benefit from our programming.”
Pushcart Players’ mission is to bring musical Theater Productions of substance and merit, and innovative educational residencies to young people in their school environments. Performances are curriculum oriented, focusing on literacy, history, values clarification, and music. Workshops and residencies focus on the craft of theater itself, promoting all the benefits of creating theater.
Whelihan further noted the coinciding of Pushcart’s and Whitehill’s priority to reach out to schools and populations that would not normally have the resources to include cultural enrichment. “It is only through foundation and corporate grants that some of New Jersey’s young people can participate in live, professional theater,” he said.
Pushcart Players has traveled over 2 million miles nationally and abroad since 1974 to serve more than 8 million children and their families with meaningful theatre. >From the White House to the little red schoolhouse, this dynamic company has received numerous state and private awards for excellence and innovation. A cast of professional Equity actors and stage managers come with complete scenery, lighting and sound systems, making every performance adaptable to any location.
Pushcart Players will be bringing six different productions to schools and theaters throughout 2017: “Ellis Island: Gateway to America” is a spirited salute to America that takes a loving look at a small group of immigrants arriving in the early 1900’s, and follows their experiences in shaping U.S. history into the 1960’s. “The Last Butterfly” is a multi-media Holocaust awareness play that teaches tolerance, and offers a springboard for broader discussion of bully behavior and character development issues.
“Stone Soup…and other stories” is a well-seasoned blend of multi-cultural folk tales from around the world, with a gentle emphasis on the joy of reading. “Peter and the Wolf” features the traditional Russian folktale set to the beloved music of composer, Sergei Prokofiev. A different instrument and melody represents each character and theme, celebrating courage, ingenuity, and leadership in young people.
In “The Velveteen Rabbit,” a young boy’s love and a little nursery magic help transform the Velveteen Rabbit from a favorite plaything into a real rabbit. The Boy and Velveteen embark on exciting imaginary adventures, from deep dark caves to the wide open sea, and together they learn the true meaning of friendship in this musical re-telling of one of America’s favorite storybooks. “A Cinderella Tale – Happily Ever After” is Pushcart’s trademark take on the enduring story about the universal longing to overcome adversity. It celebrates dreaming dreams and promotes goodness, generosity, and compassion.
“Pushcart offers sensory friendly performances of all our productions,” said Whelihan, “wherein the plays are adapted to be accessible to children on the Autism spectrum and with other cognitive disabilities.” In adapting the performance, music is kept at a consistent level, avoiding any sudden or jarring bursts of sound. Audience space remains well-lit and adjustments are made to script and prop use to avoid innuendo and complicated mime.
“Arts education and learning are at the center of Pushcart’s mission, goals and operations,” continued Whelihan. “While touring productions are designed to educate in other subjects, our theater education programs embrace arts curriculum standards that engage students to create, perform, respond and connect. To teach theater for theater’s sake.”
“Players Onstage” are long-term residencies creating theater with children on the Autism spectrum (currently in Newark and Clifton), and with the general population as well. Pushcart conducts workshops in Passaic with at-risk youth in the juvenile correctional system. Student productions in and out of New Jersey are directed by Pushcart artistic staff and teaching artists in a program called “Kids Do Broadway.” And Pushcart offers “The Informance,” pre or post performance workshops that offer a hands-on exploration of all elements of musical theater: the artist, the medium, and the career. All productions are accompanied by study guides with resource lists, bibliographies, show summaries, suggested activities, and further discussion points for teachers, parents, and group leaders.
A story can do much more than entertain, according to Montclair’s Gerald Fierst. Stories can educate and inspire as well.
Along with the Pushcart Players performance group in Verona, Fierst put the idea to the test by launching a storytelling program for children with autism and special needs. The 28-week initiative started in October at Today’s Learning Center in Clifton and was funded primarily by a $20,000 grant from the Pine Tree Foundation.
“Art isn’t luxury. This isn’t just about entertainment,” Fierst said. “This is about quality of life through quality of thinking. This is how to expand our horizons.”
Fierst visits the Clifton center once a week and explores topics such as folk tales, family history, and poetry. The Pushcart Players, a nonprofit group of performers in Verona, use their talents for productions scheduled through the year and by lending their puppeteer to help, according to Producing Artistic Director Paul Whelihan.
“I can tell you the teachers are thrilled with it, the students are very engaged and very enthused about it, as is the administration,” Whelihan said. “It looks like we’re on to something good here.”
Terrence P. Burnett brings his expertise with puppets to add another dimension to the program. Whelihan said puppets help give the children another way to communicate.
The coordinators are using this year as a pilot version of the storytelling class, as Whelihan said they’re mostly writing the curriculum as they go along. They could serve as a model program for others to emulate going forward, he noted.
Whelihan credited much of the success to Fierst. A Montclair resident since 1971, he has performed in the United States, Europe and Asia. He has worked with the arts in education and served as a co-director of the MidAtlantic Storytellers‘ Gathering, as a member of the board of The New York Storytelling Center, and as artistic director of the Jewish Storytelling Center in New York City.
“The arts are a really powerful tool to teach all sorts of populations,” Fierst said. “[English as a second language], special needs, and even general population, because the arts teach abstract thinking. The arts teach imagination.”
Whelihan said Fierst has a good demeanor with the kids and builds trust instantly.
“He’s like a friendly uncle or grandparent to a lot of the kids,” Whelihan said. “They’re very disarmed by him right away, and he knows how to communicate across the spectrum.”
The Pushcart Players will be back on center stage for a performance to thank the community and Pine Tree Foundation for the support. On Saturday, Dec. 10, at 7 p.m., the Pushcart Players perform at Today’s Learning Center, 199 Scoles Ave. in Clifton.
To attend the free autism-friendly performance of “Stone Soup,” a show based on popular folktales, RSVP to 973-478-4866.