What do you get when you take a zany and imaginative poetry book for children and put it in the hands of passionate and creative theatre education students? Well, you get UNC Charlotte's newest traveling show, A Hatful of Dragons.
This month, the Department of Theatre presents an original children's play adapted from the book of poetry by Vikram Madan, A Hatful of Dragons. Associate Professor of Theatre Education Beth Murray, along with student playwrights Micah Contee, Isabelle Grise, Erin Jarrell, Maxwell Martin, Brittney Tavira-Cuevas and Courtney Cox Tillson, have created a theatre experience that is perfect for young kids and their parents.
The concept originated in the spring of 2021, when Murray decided to create a children's show with her Theatre for Young Audiences class.
“For the source material, I love doing picture books, because it challenges us to look not just at the words, but what the illustrations say to us,” she says.
Last semester, Murray assigned her students the project of adapting poems from Madan’s book into scenes.
“Each student got their own separate poem to make a scene out of,” says Maxwell Martin, one of the student playwrights, as well as the production's sound designer. “Mine was the only solo scene in the entire show, so we decided to make it into a dance number. We incorporated the lines from the poem into the lines of the script.”
Martin says the creative process involved channeling his inner child. “We looked at it a lot through children's eyes. What would catch the most attention? What would not be distracting?”
Rehearsals began this semester, with Murray guiding the performers on how to put on a show with the target audience of children. “Anyone who has performed for kids knows that they are such a great teaching audience,” Murray says. “They don’t filter. If they feel a certain way, they’ll let you know how they’re feeling at the moment.”
Madan, the poet/illustrator, was greatly involved and included in the rehearsal process, giving feedback and working with the production to ensure it holds the values of his original book. A “wild and wacky conglomeration of unique (and goofy) poems,” according to one reviewer, with whimsical characters - from mummies to mosquitos, aliens to octopi - there is a lot of imagination in the pages of Madan’s book, something Murray embraced.
“I think one of the big challenges that I hold myself to whenever I'm adapting somebody's work is that I honor it. We want to have some of the spirit of what it is. We want to adapt it so that the work is respected rather than taken.”
The students have been devoted to the work, says Martin. “I have been at every single rehearsal since we started. At first it was just about getting to know all the different people, but then it became learning more about the sound equipment and becoming less of just the sound designer, but also the sound technician.”
Martin says this show has been a labor of love not just for theatre education students, but for other majors as well. For example, music students contributed to the sound design, recording music and sound effects. “We took a lot of motifs from clarinets because we have two characters who do not talk. It was a good way to involve the music department, making this production one that has the music, dance, and theatre departments all working on it.”
You might think creating a show for young audiences is a simple feat, but Murray disagrees. “Art is art, and children are artists. Sometimes the stereotype for theatre for young audiences is that it needs to be dumbed down. While we have our fair share of silliness in this show, I would go through the same process of creation for kids as I would with adults.”
A Hatful of Dragons hits the road this week, with performances indoors and outdoors at parks, libraries, and on campus in the Arts Quad behind Robinson Hall for the Performing Arts.
“I’m hoping that audiences will get a sense of wonder and a sense of play,” says Martin, “It’s a show that's meant to bring joy.”
All performances of A Hatful of Dragons will be free, with the show running approximately 30 minutes. You can find the dates and locations of each production below.
Friday, April 14 , 10am PERFORMANCE at Reedy Creek Park Nature Center
Saturday, April 15, 10am PERFORMANCE at Frank Liske Park, Hartsell Pavilion
Saturday, April 15, 1pm PERFORMANCE at Charlotte SHOUT Earth Day celebration at First Ward ParkSaturday, April 15, 2pm VIKRAM MADAN AUTHOR PRESENTATION at ImaginOn Spangler Library
Saturday, April 15, 4 pm PERFORMANCE in the Arts Quad behind Robinson Hall at UNC Charlotte. Meet and greet with the poet follows the show.
Friday, April 21, 11:30am PERFORMANCE at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library University City Regional Branch