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It's In the Bag

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Paper Bag Players, from left, Nina Onuora, Brackett, James Elmore, and Eva Breul. (Image provided.)
  • Paper Bag Players, from left, Nina Onuora, Brackett, James Elmore, and Eva Breul. (Image provided.)

According to Judith Martin, co-founder of the Paper Bag Players, “If you can’t imagine it happening, you can’t believe it.”

Darwinian evolution maintains that frogs came from fish. In “Dandelion”, the genetic mutation occurs before the eyes of the audience in a matter of minutes and with the vocal encouragement of kids. “You can do it!,” the audience chants in unison at the fish out of water that now needs lungs and legs to survive.

Martin is also the artistic director and choreographer of the production, a lively rendition of the life cycle according to Darwin. Her mission is not to tell the story and have it comprehended, but rather to invite the viewers to join the ride, breaking down the wall that separates actor and audience.

“There is an intense connection between the audience and players in ‘Dandelion’,” says Martin. “Everyone takes the journey together.”

At certain points, a narrator asks the crowd to cheer on a species in need of a change, helping to create the illusion that there is a relationship between the participating audience and the evolutionary process.

The New York troupe’s name is reflective of the sets, props, and costumes it uses — household objects like cardboard boxes and brown paper bags. The scenery helps create a production more accessible to children. When children put their arms and legs into the holes of a cardboard box, their imaginations freely allow them to pretend that they are something other than themselves. The group mimics this child-like simplicity, making the performances easily understood by kids and fondly embraced by adults. Unlike TV and the Internet, the troupe encourages active participation.

“Encouraging children to imagine increases their chances of discovering and understanding the complexities of our world,” says Martin.

The players create and perform for children between the ages of four and nine. Because of an excessive amount of children who could not afford to attend the players’ low-cost performances last year, the group recently instituted a program called Theater for All with the goal of guaranteeing all New York City school children the opportunity to see the show at least once.

Martin believes that children’s theater is not a tool that prepares for future theater-going. Instead, she feels that exposure to art is paramount and invaluable to the intellectual development of children.

“Art nourishes children,” says Martin. “It provides them with insights that you otherwise wouldn’t believe they were capable of attaining.”

The Paper Bag Players will perform “Dandelion” at the Orange Hall Theater at Orange County Community College at 2pm on February 4. (845) 341-4891; www.sunyorange.edu/lyceum.

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