All grown up
The Children’s Theatre of California celebrates its fourth season
It seems like only yesterday that Buck Busfield, longtime producing artistic director of the B Street Theatre, launched its companion venture, the Children’s Theatre of California. The concept was to use adult actors in plays primarily aimed at children and young-adult viewers. The small professional company, located in the 100-seat “B2” space adjacent to the main theater, draws on many of the same actors used by the B Street.
Oh, how time flies! CTC is already embarking on its fourth season. We thought it was a good time to ask Busfield and Bill Blake, the managing director for the B Street and CTC, how the project is going.
“It’s been successful, and it’s growing,” Busfield began, before allowing that CTC is not yet financially self-supporting. “It’s still being subsidized by the B Street Theatre, mostly because [the CTC space] is so small. We just can’t grow it as quickly as Actor’s Equity would like. Eventually, we’ll need a bigger space.”
For now, CTC uses the small venue to its advantage. “It’s an experience where the audience is very close to the actors, something you can’t get in larger halls,” Blake said. “For a lot of kids who are interested in play-acting, it’s a chance to get up close and interact with the actors onstage. They’re right there.”
The strategy that keeps CTC professional under its Actor’s Equity Theater for Young Audience contract and still allows the theater to cover enough of its expenses involves observing several rules. “We can have no more than nine actors on stage. The shows can be no more than 90 minutes, or we go into overtime,” Busfield said.
That means many plays staged by other children’s-theater companies in the country aren’t a good fit for CTC. Hence the company’s reliance on original scripts written within CTC’s parameters. Three out of the four shows in the current season are being written by playwrights with local connections. David Pierini, who starred in last year’s CTC production of The Emperor’s New Clothes, is adapting Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper with a gender revision as The Princess and the Pauper. Richard Hellesen, best known locally for scripting Sacramento Theatre Company’s long-running musical version of A Christmas Carol, is adapting the Revolutionary War classic Johnny Tremain. Jerry Montoya, associate producer at the B Street, will take on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
CTC’s season opened last weekend with a musical written outside Busfield’s company: Alexander Who’s Not Not Not Not Not Not Going to Move. It’s a sequel to last season’s popular show Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Both spring from a popular series of children’s books. Busfield said that a show connected to a well-known book automatically has a leg up with audiences.
That’s fortunate, since CTC hasn’t gotten much lift from the more-established B Street name. “We thought that people would just naturally make the connection, and we could use the B Street to cross-promote the CTC,” Busfield said. “But we’re finding that people learn about the CTC independently.” Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise, as the typical B Street patron seems to be done with hands-on parenting or never had kids in the first place.
There are also “a good amount of CTC patrons who don’t have kids,” Busfield said. These folks tend to turn out for a show adapted from a well-known literary classic, like last year’s Treasure Island.
CTC is finding that families come in many forms. “Sometimes its parents and their kids, or an aunt or uncle with nieces or nephews,” said Blake. “Or grandparents and kids. Or a friend’s parents bringing neighborhood kids. The one thing we find to be universal, across everyone we talk to, is that the adult is someone who loves theater and wants to share that experience with younger people.”