Plays Like Picture Books Come to Life

by Molly Gilmore

The Little Red Hen (Stephanie Kroschel) aims to get help from her chicks (from left, John Serembe, Heather Christopher and Carolyn Fry).

True to its name, Olympia’s Juice Box Theater makes plays in kid-sized portions. The company’s shows, playful retellings of fairytales and folktales, are about 20 minutes long, a comfortable length for the target audience of children 6 and younger.

“Our shows are colorful and fun and bright and quick,” said Juice Box’s Kate Ayers, who writes and directs the shows. They’re like picture books come to life, and kids are invited to join the action.

Juice Box — a collaboration among Ayers, Heather and Michael Christopher, and Carolyn and Harrison Fry — produces a new play each month at Oly Theater in the Capital Mall. Next up is Goldilocks and the Three Bears, opening June 15.

“I think, ‘How can we make it more fun and also get a moral lesson in there somewhere?’ ” said Ayers, who’s been working in children’s theater since she was in college. She made shows for the youngest theatergoers during her nine years as artistic director at Indianapolis Children’s Theatre. When she moved to Olympia, she started a similar program at Olympia Family Theater, which stopped doing mini-shows at the start of the pandemic.

In April’s The Three Little Pigs, Mortimer’s siblings tease him because he prefers reading to wallowing in the mud. Of course, Mortimer is the one who winds up building a house of bricks and outwitting the scary-but-not-too-scary Big Bad Wolf.

The wolf (Carolyn Fry) is out to get the pigs (from left, Dale Sharp, Heather Christopher and Isaac McKenzie-Sullivan).

Pigs was Juice Box’s first show at Oly Theater, and the company is already drawing a substantial audience. “It’s been more successful than we had originally thought,” she said. “Everybody that is involved is having a good time, whether you’re in the audience or you’re in the show. It’s a very light, fun environment. It’s a great way to introduce little ones and their families to the theater arts.”

“We encourage kids to move their bodies, laugh, respond, participate,” said Carolyn Fry, one of the company’s core actors. “They’ll help us do things in the show. They’ll answer questions. It’s really approachable. Kids don’t feel like they have to be really serious. Hearing their little giggles and the things they shout out to us is the best part.”

“It’s a great setting for kids,” agreed Julie Parker, whose son Henry, 5, has been to both Pigs and May’s The Little Red Hen. “He gets really excited about going.” The shows make her laugh, too, Parker said, and she plans to keep taking Henry to see them.

The Frys’ son, Crosby, 3, also can’t wait for the next show. “The day after we finished Little Red Hen, he said, ‘Can we go to Goldilocks and the Three Bears now?’ ” Carolyn Fry said. “He’s probably our biggest fan.”

“He got sort of obsessed with The Three Little Pigs,” she said. “It was really fun to see. He asked to check out the story from the library, so we read several different versions. He will act out the story, and he directs us and his friends in re-enacting it. And it wasn’t led by me — it was all him. The show inspired him, which is exactly what we’re aiming for.

“Kids are so thirsty for that sort of imaginative play, and they’re not always getting it right now,” she said. “Kate sets it up so perfectly. It’s a really good intro to theater.”

From left, Heather Christopher, Dale Sharp, Isaac McKenzie-Sullivan and Carolyn Fry have fun with Juice Box’s The Three Little Pigs.

Ayers also intends the shows to introduce kids to classic stories, stories that many adults have heard of but that kids might not know. “I believe that stories are very important to our society, so I’m choosing fairytales and folklore to give our young audiences this base.”

“Beyond Goldilocks, 2023 shows will be Rapunzel in July; The Three Billy Goats Gruff in August; The Pied Piper in September; Jack and the Beanstalk in October; The New Mitten, a Ukrainian folktale, in November; and The Elves and the Shoemaker in December. The company is planning three performances per show for now; dates might change but the shows will all end before naptime. “Our plan is to do this year round and have something going on every month,” Ayers said.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

10:30 a.m. June 15-17

Capital Mall, 625 Black Lake Blvd., Olympia

$5; children under 2 admitted free


Photos courtesy of Juice Box Theatre.

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