The folks at the Virginia Repertory Theatre refer to the current period in which its sites are not open for public access as an “intermission.” But this intermission is the most active ever and, rather than closing its curtains, the theater is opening them to reveal a host of online offerings for families at home.
Some of these engaging, interactive activities are recast from elements that had been used in camps and programs for the schools the theater works with, while others have been created to meet families’ needs during their at-home days.
“Children can do any of our online activities with a parent or caregiver, or children can may engage in an activity on their own and periodically engage with their parents for assistance and to share the experience,” said education manager Irene J. Kuykendall. “We saw this as an opportunity to reach kids even outside of our community. This might be the first time we could interact with some of the children and that is very exciting for us!”
The theater company’s free virtual offerings are presented in three categories: StageConnect, offering videos excerpted from summer camp sessions, At-Home Activities and Bedtime Stories. In addition, summer camps have been recast in a digital format that includes interactive elements with acting, singing, dancing and crafts. Registration and payment can be made online at va-rep.org/camps.html. “Summer Showtime” for ages 12-18 will be held from July 27 through Aug. 7, “Stage Explorers” for children in grades K-5 from Aug. 17-21, and “Dramatic Adventures” for ages 3-6 from Aug. 24-28.
StageConnect’s video samplings of selected portions from the camp sessions include a Tissue-Box Monster activity with education associate Daniel Daigle, as well as a Mindful Moment with breathing and yoga exercises, which help participants to relieve anxiety and stay connected (a welcome asset for parents as well as the kids).
The At-Home Activities were designed by Arts in Education manager Amber Martinez and are modeled after the activities she developed for classroom use as a complement for students’ viewing of a live performance. Each session presents two components: a video reading of a popular story or book, and fun-filled related activities that are presented in an Activity Guide booklet.
“My goal is to show the connection between arts and education. The arts can make learning so much more fun and help children to retain the information,” said Martinez. “Think of the ABC song that helped us all to learn the alphabet!”
One At-Home activity includes viewing a 15-minute reading of “The Jungle Book,” accompanied by suggestions for activities that range from an exercise in sequencing and an exploration of the animals that inhabit a rain forest to opportunities to illustrate and journal. The video of “Jack and the Beanstalk” is complemented with suggested activities, such as a crossword puzzle, an imaginative writing exercise, and measuring the relative size of household objects by comparing them to a tracing of the child’s foot.
Online activities also include Bedtime Stories, which was the brainchild of Martinez. Families can view videos of favorite fairy tales narrated by a host of creative and fun-loving storytellers, who are local actors who responded to a call for entries.
“I asked the artists to have fun with a public-domain story while conveying its hallmark moral and message, and the submissions were just wonderful,” said Martinez.
Featured videos available online are “Shlomo’s Tiny House,” “Leap Frog,” “The Red Shoes,” “Jorinda and Jorindal,” “The Turnip” and the “Swineherd,” and all exhibit unique approaches by the narrators with a touch of hilarious humor that will bring a smile to children and parents alike.
“As a parent, I know ‘the same old, same old’ can get tiring. Kids need a change of pace. This is a fun way to get them active and to get different parts of their brain moving and working,” said Martinez. “In addition, theater activities help children learn how to pay attention, learn from other people’s stories and actions, and develop empathy and caring.”
“The online offerings were designed to make a space for kids, while they are at home, to express their zany, wild, fun selves through a creative outlet,” said Kuykendall. “Looking to the future, we hope these children and their families will join us at the theater, when we are all able to gather and connect in person again—whether it is for performances, special events or camps. In the meantime, we’ll be finding new and inventive ways to offer that sense of community and connection.”