Stage & Dance

Lexington Children's Theatre adds a circus touch to 'Tales of the Shimmering Sky'

Michael Whitten, left, Ashley Isenhower and Jim Short star in Tales of the Shimmering Sky at the Lexington Children's Theatre. The play, by Casey Sams, is based on three folktales, each from a different culture, about some aspect of the sky.
Michael Whitten, left, Ashley Isenhower and Jim Short star in Tales of the Shimmering Sky at the Lexington Children's Theatre. The play, by Casey Sams, is based on three folktales, each from a different culture, about some aspect of the sky. Lexington Herald-Leader

This could be the children's theater equivalent of someone plunging a chocolate bar into a jar of peanut butter.

Lexington Children's Theatre producing director Larry Snipes was reading Sara Gruen's circus novel Water for Elephants at the same time that he was contemplating how to approach this season's production of Tales of the Shimmering Sky, a play by Casey Sams that relays folktales about the sky from three cultures.

Snipes thought maybe the sky stories and the circus aesthetic might be two great things that would go great together.

The circus setting "was nowhere in the script," Snipes said. "But we are dealing with a multicultural story, and it occurred to me that one place where cultures really come together is in the circus. If you look at circus performers, they come from all over the world — different cultures and different backgrounds."

So Snipes issued a challenge to his three-person cast and design team to make the show into a circus act, sort of.

"Because of the skills involved in most circus acts, it really became more about clowning than circus," Snipes said.

So there won't be any LCT actors flying across the shimmering sky with the greatest of ease on a flying trapeze. But they have been refining their clowning skills to tell the three tales.

The stories are Sister Sun, Brother Moon, a Native American tale explaining day and night; The Hare on the Moon, an Indian story explaining why there is a rabbit shape on the moon; and After the Rain, a Kenyan myth about rainfall.

In another divergence from the play the theater is removing scientific explanations of the phenomenon portrayed so the actors can concentrate on the cultural stories.

"The kids understand where myths come from now," Snipes says. "It's not like they don't understand that stories are stories, but there really is no rain god that came to paint the rainbow. It's a scientific phenomenon.

"We just wanted to have fun with the stories, because the stories from different cultures are all very interesting."

And even though they come from different cultures and traditions, they teach good morals, Snipes says.

Sister Sun, Brother Moon, for instance, is all about sharing, and The Hare on the Moon is about self-sacrifice.

Snipes says the theater had been considering Sams' play for several years, but the clowning has been a new adventure.

A clown expert from the Cincinnati area came in to work with the cast, and Snipes says, "It hit me like a ton of bricks that most clowning is silent, and all of a sudden you're storytelling. Clowns tell stories, but not with words.

"Here we are, telling the story with clowns and words."

The hope is they'll go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

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