I had the privilege of being invited to the Children’s Theatre Company to enjoy Balloonacy with my preschool boys. I knew I would like it. However, since not a single word was spoken, I was convinced that it would be slightly boring.
I don’t know why I’m so skeptical. I really should know better, but once again, I was completely taken aback at how much I loved it.
The Children’s Theatre Company knows that theatre is important at any age, so it has created an Early Childhood Theatre Initiative. Each season they have at least one production that is designed for audience and child interaction that incorporates all the senses. They may actually feel the play like in Balloonacy when the actor uses mists of water during his performance spraying them out into the audience. Children are encouraged to vocalize during the performance.
The theatre experience starts as soon as you enter into the lobby. We were welcomed and shown to the puppet socks to put on and begin to play with. There were signs all over the lobby with games suggestions and books to read. We even played Simon Says with our puppets.
And then the show started, right there in the lobby, as we were welcomed by the Stage Manager and met the Old Man as he walked through the crowd. Then, we all followed him into his home.
The fun had just begun!
Since the Old Man doesn’t speak throughout the entire show, I was given the chance to ask him some questions and get to know him a little bit. Or at least Robert Dorfman who plays the Old Man (he, by no means, is the old man!)
Without further adieu, let me introduce you to Robert Dorfman.
We are excited to learn that you are debuting Balloonacy to the world and at our very own Children’s Theatre Company. My family and the readers of Family Fun Twin Cities are excited to learn about another show aimed at the preschool age. Tell us what encouraged you to be in this show for preschoolers and what excites you.
Like so many, I am a huge fan of The Children’s Theater and the extraordinary quality and variety of art that they produce. And I am a huge fan of artistic director Peter Brosius. When I moved to Minneapolis a year ago, I got in touch with Peter. He asked me to come in and audition for Balloonacy, hired me and the rest is “blessed history”. And I am excited about performing for the youngest in our audience. The pre-schoolers bring such a pure and spontaneous imagination to the theater. They keep an actor honest and in the moment.
You have an extensive theatrical background, and we are thrilled to have you here. How has your background in “Grown-up” theatre and in the circus benefited you for this role?
All audiences, young and old, like to see their lives reflected in the theater. They like to watch recognizable as well as fantastical characters who reflect on or struggle with familiar or foreign situations. Children, of course, bring a naivete that is unlike most adult viewers. Young people are willing and able to engage in a play with an unedited, un-self-conscious and spontaneous abandon that we older folk could learn from. I started in the circus and have performed in plays specifically targeting young crowds such as the Broadway production of The Lion King. But nothing is like playing to these pre-schoolers. It’s pure joy!
What drew you to the Twin Cities to relocate here? How long have you lived here? What do you think? What do you enjoy most so far?
I’d worked here many seasons over the years, both at the Guthrie Theater and on tour and now at the Children’s Theater. It’s always a good time here in the Twin Cities. And a very pretty and manageable city. Friendly folks. Lots of fun. Lots of Art and Theater. I relocated here about a year ago after living primarily in New York and California. And then I fell in love and I always follow my heart.
What’s it like to work with Peter Brosius?
Peter is a great director and administrator. He has endless patience and boundless respect for his audience, his actors and everyone he works with. He is also the smartest man in the room. And if his personal energy could be connected to the grid it would warm us all winter and cool us well into the summer.
Let’s talk about Balloonacy. The kids are going to wanna know how old The Old Man is. How old is The Old Man?
The Old Man is as old as the hills. As old as dirt. The Old Man is “Grandpa” old.
Do you have a favorite part of the show you could share with us?
I’ve done a bunch of clown, mime, puppet work in my day. So the idea of doing a silent piece wasn’t completely intimidating. But it was intimidating enough. Working to express myself clearly and freely with only a physical vocabulary is both challenging and very enlightening. And in the end it so freeing and enriching to connect with these young minds. The young ones teach me things about the play and about myself every performance.
How is a preschool audience different from an adult audience?
Both adults and children enjoy a truthful story told in a clear and creative way. They also both respond to humor and magic and beauty. Children, especially our target audience of pre-schoolers, however, do bring an abashed joy with them and it colors the way they listen and react. They are unguarded in their responses and will, often and vociferously, shout out whatever they have on their minds at any moment during the play. (like a certain little boy–who shall remain nameless and who may or may not be related to me–yelled at the top of his lungs, “You have green stuff on you BUTT!”) Adults tend to hold their comments until after the play is ended.
“Seeing live theatre together introduces your child to emotions, conflict resolution, problem-solving skills and promotes the sharing of thoughts and ideas!“ I lifted that line from the Children’s Theater web page. But it says it so succinctly. Children are our greatest natural resource. It is of utmost importance that children, including the very youngest, are exposed to art in a communal setting. Children are not only our future audiences but they are our future period. Educating the youngest among us in an entertaining and public arena helps to prepare them for the world at large. The fact that performing for them enriches my soul is a very wondrous side effect. And I believe any adult would not only be amused by Balloonacy but would be transported watching the children giving themselves over to it.