Bringing children to the theater can be a harrowing venture. Will they sit still? Will they bother the other patrons? Will they understand the play? And, most of all, will they be entertained? At the Kids Interactive Theatre Ensemble (KITE), not only is it OK to jump around and sing along, but it's also encouraged. It's theater for children, by children.
The group was founded three years ago by performing arts teachers Mark and Hara Lewis as a way to raise money for a hospital in India and, at the same time, provide kids a chance to have a creative hand in the theatrical process.
"We didn't want anything inappropriate, rough or hyper-stimulated, as some children's theater can be," says Hara. "We wanted an experience that would foster, encourage and nurture children's innate sense of creative play in a safe and gentle environment."
To support this goal, the group uses an ensemble form, in which there aren't defined lead or supporting roles.
The Lewises developed what they call the "KITE process," which begins with a 12-week workshop where the students, ages 9 to 14, are presented a story from a fairy tale, myth or fable. Then, through improvisation and theater games, the students create the characters, dialogue and scenes.
Because they use no sets and very few props, they rely on the group to become the scenery, props and sound effects. Many students also contribute by playing musical instruments offstage when not performing.
"I really like that we get to create the script as an ensemble," says Harry Wilde Greer, 11. "And there's no big costumes or props. If we need a prop, we form it ourselves."
For example, in "The Tree of the Animals," the students cluster in the center of the stage to form the branches, trunk and roots of the tree.
The Lewises prefer to focus on lesser-known stories, such as "Old Mother West Wind" by Thornton W. Burgess or one of Aesop's fables, such as "The Boasting Traveler."
The group has based its current production, "Little Heroes," on two tales: "The Tree of the Animals," a folk tale from Uganda about two young children who use their musical talents to save their village, and the Chinese fable "The Magic Paintbrush," in which a boy proves the heart of a true artist can prevail over any adversity.
"It's really nice because the stories are short and we can do a couple of them," adds Tierra Leustig, 11, who has been performing with the group since its inception. Each play is 20 minutes, with an intermission, which is ideal for little ones experiencing live theater for the first time.
"There is not one single adult onstage, and that seems to be the attraction that amazes the children in the audience," says Lisa Aaron, mother of 10-year-old ensemble member Alexandra. "It's rare that you can find theater that both children and parents can enjoy together."
WHERE: NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood; L.A. Shakespeare Company's Globe Theater, 1909 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga
WHEN: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m. May 24 (NoHo); 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sun. (Topanga)
PRICE: $12 adults, $7 kids (2 and younger are free)
INFO: (818) 340-5333; www.kitetheatre.org