“Now this will be a fine soup.”
Perhaps long ago you remember a parent or grandparent reading those words to you — perhaps a teacher shared with you the story of “Stone Soup,” or maybe it was a librarian. The story is as old as anyone in the Valley and just as timeless. It’s been told a multitude of different times in a multitude of different ways, each author or story-teller throwing in their own pinch of spice here and there. But it’s never been done like this before.
This summer the Chelan Valley Players, a local theater troupe, have added a whole new flavor to “Stone Soup” by performing it in their new program Books on Stage.
“It’s live theater, there really isn’t anything more exciting than seeing a story come to life before your eyes,” said Assistant Director of Public Services for North Central Regional Library Angela Morris. Morris coordinated with the director of the troupe Judy Johnston, also a librarian at Brewster Library, to bring the actors to 20 libraries under NCRL, including Wenatchee on July 30.
“I’ve worked for Chelan Valley Players for 22 years. Chelan Valley Players is the organization that contacted NCRL to provide a performance-oriented program based on books,” Johnston said. She said the troupe rehearsed for four weeks before beginning their four week tour across five counties. Each actor is trained for every part, meaning that, unless all four of them fall ill, the show will go on.
“We’ll always be covered and be able to go on,” said Johnston. “I just really wanted to challenge my actors a bit.”
NCRL used to hire performers for a similar activity from a Seattle organization called Book-It, and this is the first year the Chelan Valley Players will be doing the show.
“We kind of thought, ‘Oh, well maybe we should do something a little more local,’ ” said Morris. The change in performers has saved NCRL a little money in transportation costs, and both NCRL and Chelan Valley Players hope that the partnership will continue next year. This year, for reasons Morris can’t really identify, the performance has been a huge hit. “I would say this summer we’ve seen an extraordinary increase in audience numbers.”
The Chelan Valley Players Books on Stage troupe includes four actors: Janelle Cutuli, 24, from Brewster, Jason Hill, 18, from Omak, Harry Cogswell, 17, and Oliver Ellingson, 11, both from Chelan. The diverse age range has proven a strength of the show.
“I think that young kids can relate to that middle age because they’re not so different from them, but they’re still cool, they’re still up there doing performance,” said Morris.
Because the performances reach so many different towns, and the cost is free, they’re able to bring live theater and the performing arts to kids who might not experience it otherwise. Having a librarian from NCRL write and direct also allows the performances to be tailored to the region and the libraries they’ll be visiting. The costumes, props, and backdrop are simple and the audience is familiar.
Apart from “Stone Soup” the troupe will also be doing the classic Yiddish folk tale “A Big Quiet House.” Johnston adapted each tale to the troupe and the audience.
“I took bits and pieces and modelled our script on using four actors and trying to make it humorous,” she said of her adaptation of “Stone Soup.” “I wrote a little song that is taught to the children so they can sing along each time the song is repeated, I believe in lots of audience participation.”
In “A Big Quiet House” children are encouraged to “moo” and “cock-a-doodle-doo” to their heart’s content as fictional animals are led on and off stage. However, sometimes it’s the silence coming from the audience that really means the most.
“What makes it special to me is seeing the kids when they are just rapt with attention, especially the little ones when they’re sitting still for once,” said Morris. “And you know they’re not just doing it to be polite, they’re doing it because they’re excited about what they’re seeing and hearing.”
Every program the library hosts, from Books on Stage to The Reptile Man, must uphold in some way the NCRL mission statement: Promoting reading and lifelong learning. The library tries to appeal to a broad audience, kids ages 2 to 12, which isn’t always easy. That’s what makes this program ideal, the “classic stories that appeal to broad kinds of people,” said Morris.
“Families say they come year after year and their kids grow up knowing the library is the fun place to be in the summer,” she said. “I feel like we’re really doing a service to our families and our community.