Tag Archives: E.B. White

Before there was the Web

The cast of Cookie Company's "Charlotte's Web" preparing to meet and greet young fans after a Sunday afternoon performance in Scottsdale

Before there was the Web, which makes it possible for people to click themselves in and out of friendships, there was a tale of true friendship called “Charlotte’s Web.” No mouse needed for that baby, though a rat named Templeton does fall into the fray. He’s one of many character living on a farm where a pig named Wilbur makes friends with a spider named Charlotte. Theirs is a tale of mutual support and sacrifice, first penned by author E.B. White, and adapted through the years for live theater performance.

Phoenix Theatre’s Cookie Company is presenting “Charlotte’s Web” in Scottsdale through April 29 — so you’ve just one more weekend to enjoy the show. It’s being performed at Greasepaint Youtheatre, where my son used to tag along when his sisters were in shows a decade or so ago. He joined me for the Sunday performance of “Charlotte’s Web,” which made for a lovely bit of remembering. When my children were little, theater outings were a fun way to explore the world, meet other families and start conversations about things that truly matter.

“Charlotte’s Web” a la Cookie Company is bright, bold and cheerful — like the set that features a big red barn and a beautiful backdrop painted with full trees, floating clouds and rolling hillsides. The little girl, Fern, who works so hard to assure that Wilbur won’t wind up on the menu, sports orange tights and tulle under a whimsical dress that matches her spunky personality. Snaps for scenic designer Robert Kovach, and costume designer Gail Wolfenden-Steib.

Also director Pasha Yamotahari, who makes a tale told countless times feel truly fresh. Young theater goers let out gaggles of giggles as farm animals worked together to save Wilbur from a frying pan fate. Every actor gave a skilled, energetic performance that seemed to reach right out into the audience. But I especially loved the goose (Nathalie Cadieux)/gander (Kim Manning) pairing. One rocked a French vibe while the other channeled Spanish-American performer Charro — making the show plenty fun for adults in the crowd.

Come next season, Cookie Company will return to performing on the Phoenix Theatre mainstage campus, where exciting renovations are currently underway. Phoenix Theatre Family is presenting three Cookie Company productions for the 2012-2013 season — including “Peacemaker” (both fall and spring), “Quiltmaker’s Gift” (Nov/Dec) and “Hanky and Girlo” (March/April). Children enjoy milk and cookies, and get to meet costumed cast members, after every show. Naturally, I made sure my son snagged a cookie after Sunday’s  performance. For old time’s sake.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Cookie Company and Phoenix Theatre offerings, which include school shows, summer camps, new theater works, mainstage shows and more.

Coming up: Hormel is coming (don’t tell Wilbur)

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Charlotte’s Web

Young Arts Arizona worked with children and teens from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale to create custom artwork you can enjoy when you see the show

Valley Youth Theatre opened its production of the play “Charlotte’s Web,” directed by Lauren Antioco, this weekend. It’s a Joseph Robinette adaptation of E.B. White’s classic book about friendship, loyalty and self-sacrifice. And it’s beautifully done.

Charlotte's Web cast members get ready to meet and greet fans

The set design by Dori Brown in striking, as is lighting design by D.J. Selmeyer. Costume design by Karol Cooper perfectly captures the small farmtown setting from head to toe. Sound design by Clearwing Production is also exceptional. Taken together, they make “Charlotte’s Web” one of the best designed pieces of youth theater I’ve seen to date.

Sam Primack (Wilbur) poses with two young fans after the show

The production was also exceptionally well cast. Lead roles went to Hannah Blaile of Arcadia High School (Charlotte), Sophia Drapeau of Veritas Preparatory Academy (Fern) and Sam Primack of Cherokee Elementary (Wilbur). Primack has plenty of acting experience, and it shows. Together, the show’s 29 cast members create a cohesive, capable ensemble.

Charlotte's Web cast members pose for photos after the show

I especially enjoyed performances by the actors noted above — plus Jamie Grossman of Ironwood High School (Edith Zuckerman), Audrey Nelson of Archway Classical Academy (Little Lamb) and Aaron Zweiback (Templeton) of Arizona School for the Arts. Also Erik Wilson (Avery), a medieval history buff who didn’t note a school in his program bio.

These young ladies came out to see Sophia perform the role of Fern

A mother I talked to during intermission shared that the production had just the right balance for her two young daughters — holding their interest without being too loud or busy. To producing artistic director Bobb Cooper’s credit, “Charlotte’s Web” is just simple, elegant storytelling that shows real respect for young viewers.

Future teacher Audrey Nelson (Little Lamb) signs autographs after the show

“Charlotte’s Web” is being performed at Valley Youth Theatre through Feb. 19. Next up is Julianne Moore’s “Freckleface Strawberry” and “The Wiz” (which’ll be performed at the Herberger Theater Center). When you go, stay after the show to enjoy meeting cast members, who love signing autographs and talking with young fans.

You'll enjoy both visual and performing arts at Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix

Also take time to enjoy “Charlotte’s Web” inspired artwork created by children and teens from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale through Young Arts Arizona. Valley Youth Theatre is one of several venues that displays Young Arts Arizona works — and pictures currently exhibited at VYT feature pigs, geese, spiders and webs sporting words ala Charlotte herself.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about VYT shows, spring break camps, performing arts classes and more.

Coming up: Don’t mock the presidents!

Here piggy, piggy…

This little piggy is one of many animal sculptures along Main Street in Mesa

Pig power returns to the world of youth theater this weekend as Valley Youth Theatre opens its production of “Charlotte’s Web.” Seems at least one of my favorite pigs, from Carters Farm Mobile Petting Zoo and Ponies, is joining VYT between this Saturday’s shows.

Folks who attend the VYT production of “Charlotte’s Web” on Sat., Feb. 4 at noon or 3pm can enjoy a lovely bit of piggy time. The show actually opens at 7:30pm the night before but apparently that’s past the piggy’s bedtime. Not so f0r Sam Primack, who performs the role of Wilbur on the VYT stage.

“Charlotte’s Web” is the work of E.B. White, described by publisher HarperCollins Children’s Books as “a legendary writer for decades at The New Yorker and the author of many books of essays” who lived in both New York City and Brooklin, Maine.  He also authored “Stewart Little” and “The Trumpet of the Swan.”

There’s a nifty E.B. White bio on the HarperCollins website, which reveals a bit about how animals like Wilbur made their way into White’s stories — “In 1938, White moved to the country. On his farm in Maine he kept animals, and some of these creatures got into his stories and books.”

Seems White was less fond of writing than we might imagine: “Mr. White found writing difficult and bad for one’s disposition, but he kept at it. He began Stuart Little in the hope of amusing a six-year-old niece of his, but before he finished it, she had grown up.” Encouraging words for those of us banging away on book projects.

I’m tempted to plan a weekend slumber party complete with “Charlotte’s Web” outing, piggy pajamas and pin-the-tail on the piggy-type games. But that would be tacky, I suppose, since my children are all in college. I’ll have to settle for pulling out the “Charlotte’s Web” poster that once hung in our home, and maybe sending a couple of care packages with a piggy theme.

Our own little piggies grow so fast. One minute you’re playing with tiny toes reciting “This little piggy went to market.” The next you’re paying for college textbooks and donating titles like “Charlotte’s Web” to your favorite children’s charity. So Carpe diem — and Carpe piggy too!

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read an E.B. White letter to readers recounting his inspiration for writing “Charlotte’s Web.”

Coming up: More from Mesa’s Main Street