Performance at Old Log Theatre teach children tolerance
Learning how to be comfortable in one’s own skin can be a tough task for today’s youth. In fact, it was a lesson taught to children 40 years ago that will be echoed this summer at the Old Log Theatre through its rendition of “Free to Be You and Me.”
Originally an album and illustrated book released in 1972, “Free to Be You and Me” featured songs and stories sung and sold by celebrities of the day including Michael Jackson and Diana Ross.
The album was adapted into an ABC Afternoon Special in 1974, which the Old Log’s rendition is modeled after. The basic concept was to encourage post-’60s gender neutrality. The afternoon special aimed to inspire individuality and tolerance.
The underlying theme throughout the album, book and after school special was to share the idea that no matter who someone is, they can achieve anything.
A cast of six adults will bring this children’s production to life at the Old Log Theatre June 24 through Aug. 8. Director Rob Knutson said the summer show will be meant for children, as the Old Log summer plays normally are. This play, however, will be unique in several ways.
Knutson said “Free to Be You and Me” is a compilation of several vignettes, songs and short stories that, while unrelated to each other, have a central theme of acceptance. He said the fact the play is broken into multiple stories makes it one-of-a-kind.
“It’s truly an ensemble show, it doesn’t have one connect-through line,” Knutson said. “Mechanically it’s very different.”
Another distinguishing feature to “Free to Be You and Me” is the level of honesty depicted in the production. Knutson said the actors play themselves, which opened the door for them to show their true colors and be completely open with the audience.
“There are certain shows you want to exist only on stage, because seeing actors outside the production is like seeing Santa walking around (the mall),” Knutson said. “But this is more oral storytelling and there’s no fourth wall to this show.”
Actress Marci Lucht said she loves being able to play herself, especially for a children’s production. She said the goal is to help children understand it is okay to be different, and they can therefore focus a lot less on the theatricality of the play.
“There’s not a lot of falsehood, we play us,” Lucht said. “We’re encouraged to speak to them as if they were our brother or sister, very warm and honest.”
Actors Karl Amundson and Greg Eiden said the production feels more like a conversation with the audience than a performance.
The personal element to “Free to Be You and Me” can be seen as a teaching opportunity, similar to how elementary teachers encourage students to share and treat everyone how they would like to be treated.
In this case, the cast agreed they don’t feel like they are lecturing, but rather telling children stories they can relate to that they can take home and contemplate however they choose to.
“You just perform for them like they’re people,” Eiden said. “You’re not teaching them, you’re just telling them stories … It’s story-telling, not lecturing.”
While there are no children in the cast, working for an audience filled with youth has taught the cast of “Free to Be You and Me” a lot about the younger generation. Amundson said he has found he doesn’t have to try hard to entertain them.
“I’ve learned that what we find funny kids will find funny,” Amundson said. “I think we will be surprised to see how much kids will get.”
The story of “Free to Be You and Me” dates back 40 years. Although some classic performances such as Old Log’s last show, “Steel Magnolias,” are recreated year after year due to their entertainment value, this particular show carries a different motivation.
“Free to Be You and Me” is about self-acceptance and tolerance in society, cast in the shadow of the ‘70s when equal rights were a hot topic.
“It’s forty years old but we still need to hear it,” Eiden said. “And we need to keep hearing it … I’m waiting for the day when it doesn’t ring anymore.”
Keeping in tone with encouraging individuality, Eiden said the cast’s role as actors is to open the minds of the audience. He said they don’t aim to be role models either but simply to tell them whatever they want to be is okay.
“It’s more about inviting them to have their own thoughts,” Eiden said. “Just because I’m up here doesn’t mean they have to be on stage.”
The performance will include depictions of classic songs and stories from the original production that span topics from gender equality to acceptable crying.
Lucht said one of the important messages to her is letting young girls know they don’t have to dream about raising children. Although it was once expected of women, she likes sharing the message that they can do whatever they desire.
“When girls grow up they don’t have to be a mom or get married if they don’t want to,” Lucht said. “I like the idea that it’s not a given … It’s nice for them to hear that it’s not the only thing they’re good at or the only thing they’re good for.”
“Free to Be You and Me” debuts June 24. Matinee performances are Monday through Wednesday and Friday for children’s groups. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday shows are open to the public.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit oldlog.com
Contact Stephanie Gonyou at [email protected]