Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Youth Theatre in Missouri casts for new play about boy with hemophilia who died from AIDS

From The Columbia Tribune in Mo.:

A boat is an apt symbol for the planning of the fourth annual Arts in Health Production of PACE Youth Theatre Company. There are scripts and rehearsals to navigate, but it’s the voyage and not the destination that really counts.

This week PACE Artistic Director Angela Howard and Executive Director Megan White (pictured) held casting calls for “The Yellow Boat,” a true story by playwright David Saar, who along with wife, Sonja, lost their son Benjamin. Born with congenital hemophilia, Benjamin contracted HIV via a blood transfusion and died of AIDS-related complications in 1987. Rather than painting a dark picture, the play celebrates the courage and strength of all children through the story of a boy who died at the tender age of 8.

Howard and White, the director, shared their thoughts about this production and what it means to PACE, and how this production helps audiences understand social issues that touch everyone. The play is scheduled for performances Jan. 13 to 16 at Jesse Auditorium on the University of Missouri campus.

Tribune: PACE annually joins forces with Arts in Health Care at University of Missouri Health Care and other groups. Through this partnership, what are some of the misconceptions about health and social issues these PACE productions have tried to dispel?

Howard: The goal is to dispel the fear people have of someone different from themselves — the person in a wheelchair, the child who comes back to school wearing a hat or wig because his/her hair is gone from chemo, the child who cannot control his/her behavior. They just want to be treated like everyone else.

Tribune: Your previous Arts in Health productions have tackled cancer, Down syndrome and autism, and now AIDS. These are big issues for young people. What have been some of the most important lessons children have taken away from their experiences on the stage?

Howard: Dispelling the fear that because someone has a disease (such as cancer) or has a special need (Down syndrome, autism) that they are different and cannot contribute. In the past, we have had questions such as, “Can you catch leukemia?”. During the Hero Awards, we had a comment about how wonderful it was that we were helping kids with autism, and our young actor, Bray Stallons, said, “Yeah, and I’m one of them.” Currently, Andy Janssen, who has Down syndrome, is cast in “Bridge to Terabithia.” He also appeared in last year’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Andy is very capable of contributing his talent to our shows. Our goal is to give honest information and to educate the audience about what it means to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Tribune: “The Yellow Boat” is based on the true story of David and Sonja Saar’s son, Benjamin, who was born with congenital hemophilia and died in 1987 at the age of 8 of AIDS-related complications. I’ve read a few things suggesting the story is less about death and more about life and courage. Can you tell me your thoughts on the central messages of this play?

White: It is a very moving play. With the father of the young boy being the playwright, there is such truth in the script. In some ways, the central messages of the play are faith, hope and love. As Benjamin falls to sleep each night, the mother sings a Scandinavian lullaby titled “Busen Lull.” The lyrics to this lullaby and Benjamin’s connection to the lullaby inform the title of the play:

“Busen lull, cook the kettle full, there sailed three boats from the harbor,

The first was so blue, the second so red, the third was the color of the sun.

Busen lull, cook the kettle full, there sailed three boats from the harbor,

The blue carried hope, the red carried faith, the yellow filled itself with love.”

Benjamin always wanted to be the yellow boat. Beyond the idea of the boats, the play is about how this child finds a powerful tool in the arts and learns how to cope with all the difficulties of being a hemophiliac and then contracting HIV at a time when there was so much still to be learned about the virus. It is his powerful imagination and the outlet of drawing to see him through to the end.

Tribune: You held auditions Tuesday and Wednesday. As director, what are the challenges you face with this play given a small central cast and a chorus?

White: Actually, this show has great potential to include young actors of varying levels of experience. The ensemble is considered transformative potential in the script. They can create the scenery, the mood, the characters and the art in Benjamin’s world. They are the medium, if you will, of his story onstage. We had a great group of young people audition. The roles of the mother, father and Benjamin will be wonderful acting challenges for those cast members.