DECATUR — For almost 20 years, those who love theater in the Decatur area have stepped forward to keep the annual children’s show at Millikin University afloat.
Organized and produced outside the “main stage” series of the Department of Theater and Dance, the children’s shows have always been targeted at a young audience of roughly 5 to 11 year olds, and funded by community organizations such as the former Breakfast Optimists of Decatur. After that group’s dissolution in 2012, though, the long-running theater series needed to find a new guardian angel if the shows were going to continue. The Golden K Kiwanis stepped up to be that show producer.
“Last year they gave it a whirl to see if they liked it, and they did enjoy producing that show, ‘Miss Electricity,’ ” said Millikin’s Denise Myers, who has directed the show for two decades. “They were good, strong producers. Not much changed and we’re doing the show very similarly to how we’ve done it in the past.”
Thanks to the Golden K Kiwanis, the series continues this weekend with “The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks,” an adaptation of the 1973 children’s novel by Nancy McArthur. As the name would suggest, the story concerns a pair of unusual plants that eat socks to live, causing mischief for a family with two young daughters. The plants are portrayed by large-scale puppets on stage, each of which require the cooperation of two students to operate.
“The stars are two kids, and it was originally written for two boys, but we changed it to two girls,” Myers said. “I thought it was interesting how easy that transition was, because all we had to do was change the pronouns and everything else still worked perfectly fine. The girls grow these plants and we see them grow on stage, and then mayhem ensues once they get going. It’s a different sort of show for me because I haven’t done puppets before.”
The play’s conflict lies with the parents of the two sisters, who want to get rid of the troublemaking plants. The puppets, meanwhile, were entirely designed, built and planned by Millikin student Brian Kocher, who took on the responsibility for that aspect of the production.
“He is directing and choreographing everything that the puppets will be doing, which is a big responsibility,” Myers said. “He said ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ was one of his favorite plays, so these original designs of his were inspired by studying how those puppets were made.”
Traditionally, the children’s show gives opportunities to younger Millikin actors, including sophomores and freshmen who haven’t yet had a chance to be prominently featured in main stage shows. Myers gets special satisfaction from working with fresh-faced drama and theater students just arriving at the university, and appreciates their ability to make rapid improvement as they start their college careers.
“The lights are being designed by a tech design student who is doing her first-ever design project,” she said. “It’s a way for her to have a smaller project but still be responsible for everything, like hanging the lights, focusing them and working with me for the cues. Many of the students are experiencing a lot of firsts. It’s fun to see after two weeks a huge change in them already.”