Play Time

A touring children’s theater piece is turning tradition on its head.

While many in the University’s theater department are out of state at the regional theater competition in late January,  another road trip is well underway dismantling centuries of traditional competition — mainly between knights and dragons.

The annual Children’s Theater Tour is visiting more than a dozen schools in the region with “A Knight’s Tale.” It’s an original work with script by MFA candidate Ty Hudson and music by theater student Sam Verdick.

“A Knight’s Tail” in action at South Elementary in St. Peter.

And it’s of such a caliber that a recent criss-cross-applesauce audience of about 300 kindergarteners at St. Peter’s South Elementary school gym were effectively losing it. With music, slapstick and name-dropping everything from South Elementary to Mount Kato, the vibe, songs and humor were resonating.

For his first full script aimed at kids, Hudson said he wanted to expand on topics that elementary classrooms could only touch upon.

“I think the biggest thing off the bat was ‘what’s the lesson we’re going to tell?’” he said. “What are we teaching in this moment that will help reinforce something that’s already happening in the schools.”

In a nutshell, the story he created encourages kids to following their hearts instead of their, well, traditional story lines. This approach meant realigning the goals of some sturdy archetypes – a princess in a tower, a dragon and a knight. Hudson uses the latter two icons of traditional conflict – as well as the princess they both desire – to get his point across. It not only addresses seeking one’s own course, but it’s a little lesson on what the grown-ups would call an intense, polarizing time in society.

“We have a princess in a tower, we have dragons on one side, we have knights on one side, we have this natural conflict,” Hudson said. “The story is always that the knight must fight the dragon and save the princess. What if the princess doesn’t want to be saved because she doesn’t want to be a princess, she wants to be a wizard and create her own path.

“And these knights and dragons who are destined to fight each other, what if they don’t want to fight each other? What if they want to be friends and they want to find a new solution to this story book?”

In a political climate where it’s increasingly one group against another, he said, the message is one of hope.

Hudson comes to this writing job with five years teaching middle grades in Northfield. He’s pursuing an MFA in acting at the University and is a teaching assistant for an into class in acting.

The show is Verdick’s second time composing for the Children’s Theater Tour. In creating the original songs, the junior in acting took narrative cues from Hudson and created songs that range from little transitional pieces to full three- to four-minute songs. His challenge was keeping viewers’ interest in the story and not distracting from it with bombastic or complicated pieces of music.

“I was trying to make it lyrically simple and musically simple so it can better serve a story where the kids can let their imaginations explore,” he said. A longtime pianist, he initially entered the University intending on a choral teaching degree, but shifted to acting armed with plenty of music theory to use.

He used Garageband editing software to mix and record various instruments, and that allows the show’s music to be portable for the performances, which are:

Thursday, Jan. 21 Monroe Elementary School, North Mankato; Franklin Elementary, Mankato

Tuesday, Jan. 28 St. Anthony Elementary, New Ulm; St. Mary’s Bird Island.

Thursday, Jan. 30 St. John Vianney, Fairmont; St. Mary’s Sleepy Eye.

Tuesday, Feb. 4 Rosa Parks, Mankato; St. Clair Elementary, St. Clair

Thursday, Feb 6 Loyola Catholic School, Mankato; Albert Lea Schools.
Tuesday, Feb. 11 Butterfield Odin ,Butterfield; Nicollet Public School, Nicollet.

Thursday, Feb. 13 Hoover Elementary School, North Mankato; Franklin Elementary, Mankato.

Tuesday, Feb. 18 United South Central, Wells.

Thursday, Feb. 20 Falcon Heights Elementary, Falcon Heights

Thursday, Feb. 27 Le Sueur Henderson Middle/High School, Le Sueur.