September 4, 2008

Trafford Troupe’s KidWorks Program Revisits ‘Fable Factory’

By Candy Williams

The Theatre Factory in Trafford returns to its roots for the first KidWorks production of the 2008-09 season.

"The Fabulous Fable Factory," a musical production based on the familiar works of Aesop, was the first children's show done by the community theater group in its first season in October 1995, according to Carol Connelly, artistic director. The play was performed in the basement social room of St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Trafford.

"Everything was so new then, and we didn't have a big audience, but the kids who were there loved the music and the fables," Connelly says. "We all liked the show so much that we brought it back in our eighth season (2003), when we were in our present location. We're repeating it in our 14th season because it is a wonderful show for the whole family, the music is delightful, and our young audience members can see the familiar fables of Aesop come to life onstage."

Among the stories included in the musical are "The Country Mouse and the City Mouse,""The Dog and the Shadow,""The Farmer and the Donkeys,""The Tortoise and the Hare" and "The Ant and the Grasshopper."

"Fable Factory" means more to Theatre Factory administrators than simply being a repeat of its first production. The show is being presented through a grant from Westmoreland County Local Arts Grant Committee, and the theater is partnering with Trafford Community Library to promote reading to children.

"We're hosting the children who have completed the library's summer reading program," Connelly says. "We want to show them that reading is the key to a whole world of adventure, learning and fun - - and so is theater. Knowing the fables, the kids can relate to what is being acted out onstage, thus meeting our challenge to instill in our young audiences an appreciation of the arts."

Briana Downs, coordinator of the KidWorks program at Theatre Factory, says she hopes the experience will encourage youngsters to return to the theater for other productions.

Written by Joseph Robinette and Thomas Tierney, "Fable Factory" is directed at KidWorks by Jason Barnsley of Trafford. The cast includes Dan Maha and Rachael Abels of Elizabeth Township, Sara Stover and Amanda Reese of Plum, Parker Servello and Rachel Rudel of Monroeville, Billy Franciscus of Bethel Park, and Kylee Klass and Kaylee Shepherd of Irwin.

Maha, who is cast as Aesop, is acting in his first children's show after more than 30 years' experience in mainstage productions at local community theaters. He has performed at McKeesport Little Theatre, Community College of Allegheny County, South and Allegheny campuses, and the former White Barn Theater in Irwin and Red Barn Theater in Allison Park.

He also has done commercials and industrial film work and has been an extra in locally produced movies, including "Silence of the Lambs" and, most recently, "Shelter," starring Julianne Moore.

He says he is enjoying the experience so far of working with the youngsters who are part of the cast of "Fable Factory."

"I like seeing young boys and girls getting involved in theater," he says. "Once they're onstage, they open up in real life, too. It takes away their shyness."

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