Once Upon A Time Children’s Theatre presented its annual performance Saturday at the Malibu Playhouse, and this time, directors Julia Holland and DeeDee Davidson-Porter took the spectacle green.
“Our Garden” is a consciousness-raising piece of musical theatre written by Holland and Davidson-Porter. It reflects concerns younger people might have about the environment, and what they can do about it.
“Kids really get the eco message,” Holland said. “Particularly here in Malibu. We talk a lot about kindness to the earth and to each other. Some of these children go to school at Point Dume [Marine Science School], where an environmentally responsible message is just written into the curriculum. If we set a template for them now, we’ll have a generation of kids growing up that takes the planet seriously.”
The play follows a group of children from the future who return to a garden as part of a time-traveling field trip, after witnessing an environmental catastrophe in their own time.
Point Dume student Ava Bella Ray, nine, has appeared in the Once Upon A Time theatre productions the past three years. She said she feels that rather than sounding like another adult lesson, her peers should really “get it.”
“I like how this show is about the earth and how the characters change when they see how bad things can happen with it,” Ray said. “It should get the kids’ attention. And I really like the songs.”
Three years ago, Holland and Davidson-Porter founded Eco Hero Kids, a nonprofit foundation aimed at empowering kids through music and theater to get involved in protecting the environment. A performing troupe of talented youngsters was formed and put on tour and into the studio, singing catchy tunes that entertain, but have a broader eco-friendly message. Their first CD has been distributed all over the world and the women are writing new songs for another recording session.
For the past few years, they’ve staged major productions to help raise funds for Eco Hero coffers, but the summer camp is a more relaxed, let’s-put-on-a-show vibe for youngsters who might never have anything to do with the performing group.
“We used a lot of our Eco Hero Kids songs in the show,” Holland said. “Our Eco Hero mission statement is to teach children and adults how to take care of the world through music and theatre. The kids just saw it as a fun piece of theatre.”
The summer session is not without its challenges. In three short weeks, Holland and Davidson- Porter round up 25 children, teach them a raft of new songs and rehearse them into a viable production. When you are dealing with six-year-olds, such an undertaking is a Herculean task.
“We had really young ones in this show,” Holland said. “And they all rose to the occasion. We had some kids who have worked in our program several years and some who had never been on stage before, ever. It gives them a huge sense of confidence.”
Next spring’s production of “Peter Pan” will be a large production, with flying gear set up by the technical team that worked on “The Matrix.” At this point, Holland said she needs funding and logistical help to take Eco Hero Kids to the next level. Creating a show geared toward that youth audience, such as “Our Garden,” is something that can be licensed to youth theatre groups around the country.
“In general, Malibu kids today are becoming more aware of the fragility of their environment,” Davidson-Porter said. “When my youngest was at Point Dume, they pushed a campaign to eliminate Styrofoam trays from the cafeteria. So the environmental theme that runs through our show is a thread that just keeps that message alive. These songs are memorable. You can get little kids just working and learning about the preciousness of nature.”