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Director finds new purpose
In coordinating children's theater
Monday, March 25, 2013
By HOLLY KOZELSKY - Bulletin Staff Writer
Retiring for director and playwright Rex Stephenson does not mean slowing down. It means bringing theater to children in the Martinsville area — and perhaps providing the first program for a new dinner theater.
Stephenson directed the Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre at Ferrum College for 33 years. Last year was its last, and now it is closed, which made it a good time for Stephenson, 69, to retire.
That was until Elliot Stone, a member of the Spencer-Penn Centre’s board of directors, called him. Now Stone will be Stephenson’s assistant for a new children’s theater workshop at the center in Spencer.
The workshop will involve children in all aspects of play production, Stephenson said. He will introduce stories and folk tales, and the children will use them as inspiration to create their own dramas.
“It’s really what’s called creative drama,” he said. “We are as interested in the process as we are the product.”
Stephenson said the traditional theater format of giving actors scripts to memorize and repeat is too limiting for children.
“They have great imaginative ability,” he said. “The older we get, the more people tell us to quit daydreaming and quit imagining.”
“You give me a fairly talented group of children, and in seven or eight sessions I can get a 30-minute play out of them,” he said.
Having the children create the play takes more time to the beginning of the process than just handing out scripts, Stephenson said. However, since the children help create the program, it’s easier for them to learn and they master the play quickly.
Sometimes the young participants become quite enthusiastic. Stephenson said often they call him at home between sessions with ideas.
The performances also would be good for children to watch, he added. “There’s something about seeing somebody their size (on stage) that they like,” he said.
Stone is one of the proprietors of Stonehaus Farm. He was in Stephenson’s first Jack Tales group in 1975 and never forgot how he enjoyed the experience. The Jack Tale Players present educational plays that include traditional music and stories of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Now, as a board member, Stone wanted to get something started with Stepenson at Spencer-Penn, he said.
The pair plan workshops for spring and summer. The spring workshop will be for children in grades 2-6. It will be held on Saturdays, starting April 20, from 1-4 p.m. Tuition is $50. For more information, call the center at 957-5757.
The summer workshop will be held in June.
Additionally, Stephenson is looking into bringing his “Mark Twain” act to Spencer-Penn in the fall. It would be a good opportunity for the center to get a start as a dinner theater, Stone said.
Stephenson has had 25 plays published. Two of them will be published soon by a publisher with whom he has not worked yet. “The Jungle Book” will be a reprint. “The Littlest Shepherd” was written three years ago with Emily Tucker, and it was a popular Christmas show for the Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre. This will be its first time in publication.