Arts & Entertainment

‘Aesop’s Fables’ Come to Life Onstage at Artspace in F.C.

aesopSince the sixth century B.C., Aesop’s fables have taught children important moral lessons such as why preparing for the future, being thorough in your work and helping others are good ideas. But  society has changed in 2,500 years, so script-writer Jennifer Goldsmith and company decided to put the fables into a 21st-century context. This new version is being performed now by Creative Cauldron at the ArtSpace in Falls Church.

aesop

(Photo: News-Press)

Since the sixth century B.C., Aesop’s fables have taught children important moral lessons such as why preparing for the future, being thorough in your work and helping others are good ideas. But  society has changed in 2,500 years, so script-writer Jennifer Goldsmith and company decided to put the fables into a 21st-century context. This new version is being performed now by Creative Cauldron at the ArtSpace in Falls Church.

“If you read Aesop’s collection, most tales are very brief story frames, only a few paragraphs long. The characters are really archetypes, and Aesop used them to get a message across to his audience. We thought it would be fun to identify who these characters might be in our 21st century world.” said Creative Cauldron producing director Laura Conners Hull.

Instead of crying “wolf”, the boy now cries hypochondria. Instead of a country mouse stating that he’d rather eat “beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear,” mentions of cell phones and Match.com are thrown around.

Because there are scenes that are still somewhat improvisational, I give notes after every performance and we still tweak scenes based on audience responses.

Instead of an ant chewing out a grasshopper for being idle in the summertime, a man lets an idle high-voiced hippie street-musician come into his home even after warning her of the dangers of cold weather and not looking for a job.

But while the stories are slightly tweaked and some of the harsh lessons are softened for the younger members of the audience, they remain as relevant and apt as they were then.

Although a few of the fables are easy to recognize for those who’ve previously read them, some stories are not laid out sequentially, but rather split up throughout the entire play, which allows the play to wrap up nicely at the conclusion of the classic “Tortoise and the Hare” story.

But while the play is scripted, there is also a small amount of improvisation in each show that usually incorporates members of the audience.

“We had a pre-rehearsal development process over three weekends, where we tossed around concepts with our writer Jen Goldsmith and improvised some scenes, finally choosing tales and mapping out which would be scripted and which would be done improvisationally.” said Hull.

“Because there are scenes that are still somewhat improvisational, I give notes after every performance and we still tweak scenes based on audience responses.” she added.

Of the four members of the cast, the two adult leads have extensive experience in theater that helps to make the performance believable but not overly serious.

“Oran (Sandel) and I first met two decades ago at Arena Stage when he was the artistic director of Living Stage, Arena’s social outreach theater. When Living Stage dissolved and Oran became a freelance artist, I invited him to teach in our summer camp and after school programs which he still does today.” said Hull.

“Tiffany (Freeman) is a wonderful artist that Oran worked with through another social outreach theater launched by the African Continuum Theatre, so I knew she might be interested in this project.” she added.

But the show is stolen by the two child actors, 6th-grade student Patrick Miller and 3rd-grade student Hazel Feldstein. As the audience was mostly comprised of children and their parents, their on-stage antics and playful delivery of lines gets laughs from both kids and adults.

Because of the organic way that we work and our emphasis on creative process, we don’t usually have children with stage moms who feel their child is bound for Broadway.

When asked whether working with children was any more or less difficult than working with adults, Hull’s response left no doubt about the professionalism at the Creative Cauldron.

“Working with children is wonderful when you give them the same respect that you give your professionals. We learn as much from them as they do from us because they come to this discipline with a fresh perspective. Our professionals help them learn the little nuances and tools of the craft of acting, but they surprise and delight us with new ideas and approaches to characters and story.” she said.

When asked if “stage moms” were as much an issue at the Creative Cauldron as they appear to be at much larger venues, Hull had no horror stories to tell. Not yet.

“Because of the organic way that we work and our emphasis on creative process, we don’t usually have children with stage moms who feel their child is bound for Broadway. Like Hazel and Patrick in our current production, they tend to be really well-rounded kids who just happen to have a special interest in performing.” she said.

The play enters its final weekend of production at the ArtSpace, 410 S. Maple Ave. this coming Friday. The price of admission is $10 and shows are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.