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Jewish World Review May 24, 2005 / 15 Iyar 5765

Steve Young

Steve Young
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The politics of children's theater | Children's theater. Hotbed of Cinderella, talking trees and perhaps a venture into the world of risque with Travolta and Newton John's "Grease." That is, except in Hollywood adjacent, i.e. Silverlake.

Here plays the Silverlake Children's Theatre Group, a youthful theatrical entourage, ages 6-17, that seems to have decided standard children's theater just isn't enough of a kick — or issue-oriented enough.

"Buy America," their most recent original (words and score) musical, takes on the corporados of big discount, though any similarity between humongous outlets, like say, Wal-Mart or Costco, I have been reassured (was that a wink?) is only happenstance.

So was the similarity between "Attack of the Killer Kids," a parable about a large English-speaking democracy's invasion of a Middle Eastern principality, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

And "The Passion of the Bush" was just a coincidence of ... oh heck. They were all about what they sound like. Rather liberal views of real issues. And from the Left Coast yet. Who would have thunk?

But before you think that this group of kids is purely some left-winged, George Soros-supported political bloc, it is important to understand that there are children from all political persuasions involved in SCTG, though it wasn't made clear what the makeup of the kids was in the all-important 7- to 9-year-old demographic. And the big bucks of political PACs are nonexistent. This is an all-volunteer army.

"Buy America" was co-written by 17-year-old Phoebe Minette, who admits to being only a mere 16 when she actually wrote the play with SCTG's founder and director, screenwriter Broderick Miller.

"The play's morals and the political messages are really important because young people aren't that politically involved, but Broderick helps us bring that out and it makes us think," says Minette. "We do have Republicans (in SCTG), but no matter what our political views are, we still like each other."

In 2001, Miller volunteered to put on an original play for children at the Hollywood-Silverlake Jewish Community Center. After taking his daughter to a production of "Babes in Toyland," he saw a need to write something smarter for young people.

"'Babes in Toyland' played at such a moronic, mushy level for kids," said Miller. "I thought the whole thing was pandering and condescending — as if kids all thought at a 3-year-old level. I took a vow that if I ever directed children's theater, it had to be intelligent theater."

A former president of California Young Republicans, Miller, who has swung left in a big way, "enlightened by the women in his life," says that these endeavors are more about focusing on the worlds both inside and outside each child's local community.

And boy has this one affected the community.

"'Buy America' inspired us to host a community awareness party for the local merchants," said Miller. "Every actor in the play invited three local merchants to a free cocktail reception. It was not a fundraiser. We didn't hit up the merchants for ads or donations. The point of the evening was to bring the merchants, kids and parents of our community just a little bit closer; to involve our kids in community activism; and to teach our children the importance of supporting local businesses over franchise stores. The small business owners loved it."

And now, word of this small, local community "action" theater company is starting to get national attention.

Besides being the only children's theater group invited to appear at the prestigious Edgefest Festival, an eminent political documentarian (not named Moore) is currently filming "Buy America" rehearsals and performances to be used in his latest hush-hush documentary.

The kids don't seem to feel too nervous about the potential of offending some who may question the musical's politics. "Both sides of view are presented," said Ellie Bensinger, the 14-year-old leading lady in "Buy America." "If someone has a problem with it, they probably just don't understand it. I think they should come and talk to us about it."

Here's an excerpt from the dialogue:

Michael: Thanks, but you've done enough. You wanna know what these franchise stores really are? Tombstones — all across America, the world. And if you read the engraving, they all say something like this: "Here lies the shell of once what was a thriving, beautiful town that we called home. Rest in Peace."

Paula: No. We're a bunch of parents with jobs who have a hard enough time making enough for food, clothes, rent and the electric bill — know what I mean? I can't afford high-minded principles when I can't afford things for my kids.

Hmm. Balanced. Open to mature debate. Quite adult.

Looks like our future is in good hands. does director Miller feel about the possibility of stirring up the political pot?

"What an honor if our play could help stop these corporate giants from destroying small businesses and homogenizing the local landscape."

Uh-oh. Okay, O'Reilly. What say you?


JWR contributor Steve Young is author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful: Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and Other Stepping Stones to Success," and can be heard on Los Angeles's KTLK AM 1150, Saturdays 1-4 PM. Blog at Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Steve Young