At Trike Theatre in Bentonville, Arkansas, young people are getting an education in more than just stagecraft. We talked to Kassie Misiewicz and Paul Savas, founder and executive director, respectively. With support from the Walton Family Foundation, they are growing operations and putting a show on the road, all to help young people in Northwest Arkansas find their voice and connect to the power of creativity and the arts.
What type of programs do you offer through Trike?
Paul: Think of Trike like a tricycle. The three wheels are academy, production and outreach. We believe in what we call the 'theatre 360' experience, trying to give kids and their families a thorough inside-out understanding of how to create. Whether they act in productions or watch from the audience, the end goal is to transform young people and prepare them for success.
This rings true even for our youngest audience members. I have an 18-month old, and she has taken part in a number of Little Trike Series shows. These are 25-30 minutes long. They are full of broad physicality, lots of color, and the storytelling is not a linear plot progression. We are a ‘non-shushing’ theater, and if the kids feel inspired to get up and say something, we celebrate that. Our performers are trained to incorporate that and move the plot forward.
Why was the idea of bringing a children’s theater to Bentonville so important to you?
Kassie: When we began Trike in 2008, my own kids were just three and one. Trike really was our third baby. With Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art coming online at the time, we knew there was a real push in Bentonville to create vitality in the downtown, and it just made sense to locate Trike in an area so committed to families and artistic growth. The community is growing, and so are we. People are moving to Northwest Arkansas from places where they are used to having these amenities. I’m proud that we can meet this need for our own community.
Does a ‘children’s theater’ mean what you do is more informal?
Paul: We have different types of performances. In the shows we perform at the Walton Arts Center, we cast the roles for everything from Charlotte’s Web to Peter Pan age appropriately, bringing in professional actors for the adult roles. From beginning to end, the kids are engaged in the creative process, performing in houses of up to 185 seats with professional designers for each theatrical production element: costumes, scenery, props and lighting. We challenge our kids and our audiences creatively in all our productions regardless of the scale. Our Academy production of The Wizard of Oz, for example, was set in an underground punk sort-of vibe.
We’ve grown from local company to performing across the state, and now we are taking our production of Go Dog, Go! on the road nationally. This really is one of the next big steps for Trike— a moonshot to prove we can do a show, get it on the road, take it out of state and then come back without burning up in the atmosphere. We head to South Bend, Indiana, in January 2019 and in the upcoming seasons, the sky isn’t even the limit.
What needs does Trike meet in the community?
Paul: We really do have something for everyone. In our outreach wing, it’s teaching teachers how to play and incorporate the arts into their daily lesson plan and experience with their kids. We are trying to give the ‘adults in the room’ the skills, vocabulary and tangible tools needed to foster creative collaboration, critical thinking, growth mindset, passion—all that good stuff.
We are reinforcing the skills and strengths that really point to future success.
Our parents are telling us that their kids can now concentrate for a longer period of time. They get in trouble less frequently and can look an adult in the eyes. They can think about what they are feeling and turn it into words. When kids find a place to be brave, it translates into everything they do.
Beyond the joy a production of Charlotte’s Web or Peter Pan can bring to an audience, how can children’s theater impact their lives?
Kassie: I had a father call us, saying that sports weren’t fitting his son’s interests, and when he asked his son what he wanted to do instead, the son told him he had to do Trike. The very first day, the little boy walked in and said to his dad, ‘OK! You can go!’ For a lot of our parents, we are opening a door for how their children—who have a desire to be in the arts—can maintain and increase their skill level. We work in partnership with our parents to help develop the student’s own voice, to give them the space to be themselves, make mistakes and step into someone else’s shoes through theater.