‘Everything Goes’ : Children’s stories run wild once a week at ‘Imagination Station.’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Janice Arkatov writes about theater for The Times. </i>

Ideas run free every weekend at the Burbank Little Theatre’s “Imagination Station.” So does the show itself.

“My original idea was to read children’s stories because a lot of us have kids,” said Actors’ Company producing director M’Lisa MacLaren, who began the free children’s program last summer. “One person started to collect Native American tales. Another started reading Japanese folk tales. I’ve read some Dr. Seuss. It’s whatever anyone has. Sometimes we include songs, rubber stamps, sign language.”

The most popular session occurs the first Saturday of each month when Disney Studios animator Joe Haidar illustrates stories the children invent.

“We try to come up with a theme,” said Haidar, whose daughter, Hannah, 4, is a regular. Actors’ Company artistic director Michael Eugene Fairman solicits ideas and characters, then steers children toward the most plausible scenarios. “I try to do eight drawings--maybe two main characters, a villain, then the conflict and resolution,” Haidar said. “If there’s not a moral, then something with a happy ending.”


Sometimes the results are simple and straightforward; sometimes they’re downright strange. Stories have ranged from Easter scenes and underwater adventures to an animal tale in which a monkey and an elephant exclude a leopard from their party because of his bad breath.

“It’s not so much about the story, but the process,” Haidar said. “We’ve had a lot of 3- to 4-year-olds, so it takes a lot more work.”

He uses a black marker and large drawing pad. After he’s finished, the children (usually a dozen) come onstage and color in the pictures. “It’s become an exercise for me,” Haidar said, “like an actor who has to immediately improvise on something an audience has given him. The show is very spontaneous; it can’t be scripted. So it gives me a chance to imagine something very quickly--which is a real challenge.

“At work,” he added wryly, “I deal with logical plot lines, things that make sense. There are no eight-eyed monsters. Here, everything goes. There’s no thought. It’s just a jackhammer approach.”

He said the monthly hourlong workout at the theater “has given me a lot of ideas I’d never have come up with on my own.” On the other hand, he laughed: “I’d never show these to anyone at work.”

Haidar’s credits at Disney include “The Rescuers Down Under,” “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and the upcoming feature “Pocahontas.”

He migrated to England in the mid-1980s. “London was doing the most exciting work.” There, he worked on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and Haidar had made his mark.

“ ‘Roger Rabbit’ revitalized the industry; it led to the renaissance of Los Angeles animation,” he said. “And it brought me here.”


Where and When What: “Imagination Station.” Where: Burbank Little Theatre, 1100 Clark Ave. in George Izay Park, Burbank. When: Noon Saturdays. Indefinitely. Price: Free. Call: (818) 954-9858.