Childsplay (Theater group)

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Childsplay, a non-profit professional theatre for young people and their families, began producing theatre in 1977 in Tempe, Arizona with six actors, founding artistic director, David Saar, and as much set as would fit into the trunk of a 1967 Chevrolet. When the company toured, they performed in open spaces with the audience seated around them and on formal stages. David Saar, playwright, director, administrator, Arizona artist-in-education, Arizona State University adjunct faculty, guest director at other American professional theatre companies, and actor has been the artistic director since the beginning of the company.

From the description of Childsplay records : Child Drama Collection, Arizona State University, 1976-2008 [manuscript]. (Scottsdale Public Library). WorldCat record id: 436872886

Childsplay, a non-profit professional theatre for young people and their families, began producing theatre in 1977 in Tempe, Arizona with six actors, Founding Artistic Director David Saar, and as much set as would fit into the trunk of a 1967 Chevrolet. When the company toured, they performed in open spaces with the audience seated around them and on formal stages. David Saar, playwright, director, administrator, Arizona Artist-in-Education, Arizona State University adjunct faculty, guest director at other American professional theatre companies, and actor has been the Artistic Director since the beginning of the company.

Will Today Be Yesterday Tomorrow?, Childsplay's first show, was a collection of whimsical scenes from children's stories, folk tales, and other materials that portray a child's view of time. For the first several seasons, all of the plays were musical reviews based on a theme and were created by the company. For a complete list of Childsplay plays, please see the Scope and Content section of this finding aid.

Childsplay received many prestigious awards which helped it to gain recognition in Arizona, nationally, and internationally. Following are some of these awards:

1981 - Zeta Phi Eta Winifred Ward Award, presented by the national children's theatre association, now named AATE (American Alliance for Theatre & Education), honored a theatre company serving young audiences that has attained a high level of artistic production, has developed sound management practices and has stimulated community interest in its endeavors. 1988 - The Second Annual Senator's Cultural Award presented by the East Valley Cultural Alliance recognized Childsplay's valuable contributions to develop audiences today and for the future. 1989 - Arizona Governor's Arts Award presented to David Saar for his contributions to the arts in Arizona. 1995 - Arts Organization of the Year Award from the Business Volunteers for the Arts. 2001 - The Governor's Award for Childsplay's Arts in Education program.

The Yellow Boat, a play authored by David Saar, based on the true story of David and Sonja Saar's son Benjamin and told through Benjamin's eyes and artwork, played a significant role in the development of Childsplay and in the creation of a quality canon of plays for young audiences in the world. This play received the following recognitions:

1991 - National Winifred Ward Dare to Dream Fellowship for play development. 1992 - Childsplay's first invitation to develop a script at New Visions/New Voices Playwriting development program, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC. 1993 - Best Production for Children, Best Production of a New Work, Best Script by an Arizona Playwright and Dwayne Hartford Best Male Supporting Performance, Greater Phoenix Theater Critics Circle Awards. 1998 - AATE Distinguished Play Award.

In 1985 Childsplay introduced its logo, the Pied Piper, a figure that has appeared in many colors and costumes for Childsplay's celebrations throughout the years.

In 1988 Childsplay began its 17-year run of The Velveteen Rabbit, a 24-carrot production with puppets and actors. This show became a holiday tradition for Arizona families and ran through 2004 at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts and various venues in Tucson and was revived in 2008.

In 1991 Childsplay was the first Arizona theatre to be invited to perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. They presented The Masquerade of Life/La Mascara de la Vida, a bi-lingual play that celebrated the Mexican Day of the Dead Festival. This play was a collaboration between playwright Mary Hall Surface and Mesa mask maker and musician Zarco Guerrero.

Childsplay was featured as one of the top four American theatre companies for young audiences in the April 2000 cover story in American Theatre, published by Theatre Communications Group (TCG) in New York City.

Childsplay's commissioned play Tomas and the Library Lady was performed for First Lady Laura Bush in Phoenix in 2006. This play was also performed throughout the United States in 2007-2008, making it Childsplay's first national touring production.

Childsplay has always been committed to producing new plays and to innovative approaches to traditional stories. By 2007 Childsplay had developed or commissioned 50 new plays for young audiences, many of which were produced again by theatre companies around the world. Through the Whiteman New Plays Program, Childsplay provides theatrical artists with the time and financial support to dream and create for young people. Over the years several writers have served as playwrights in residence collaborating with Childsplay to create new plays. Monica Long Ross, an original company member, was Childsplay's playwright in residence from 1980-1991, creating six plays. Pennsylvania playwright Barry Kornhauser created four plays, California playwright José Cruz González created 5 new plays and Mary Hall Surface created three new plays. Childsplay Associate Dwayne Hartford created four new plays in the 2000s.

These premieres included:

A Tale of Two Cities, 2007, an adaptation of the book by Childsplay Associate Dwayne Hartford, received professional play development support at the New Plays for Young Audiences workshop at the New York University Provincetown Playhouse in New York City. Hush: An Interview with America, 1993-1994, by James Still with music by Michael Keck, was underwritten by one of the first grants awarded nationally by the Lila Wallace/Readers Digest Fund to support new play development for young people and was a collaboration with St. Louis-based professional theatre for young audiences Metro Theater Company.

Childsplay believes that young people deserve to experience challenging, thought-provoking theatre of the highest artistic quality. They constantly challenge the notion of what theatre for young people can and should be by presenting plays on such important and difficult subjects as the Holocaust, AIDS, teen suicide, and adult literacy. They received the Shofar Zakhor Award in 2000 for the play And Then They Came for Me, based on interviews with two Holocaust survivors who were friends of Anne Frank. In 2002 the play Eric and Elliot chronicled a family's journey through depression and suicide. This play was performed in partnership with the Mental Health Association of Arizona and was followed by a discussion with mental health professionals. Childsplay regularly provides ASL and/or Audio Description to audiences with special needs.

To elevate the artistic quality of its productions, Childsplay employs the leading playwrights, directors, designers, composers, and choreographers from adult, educational, foreign and from other professional children's theatres. Artists working with Childsplay have been from Norway, Honolulu, Seattle, Chicago, Canada, New York City, Germany and the Netherlands and include Linda Hartzell, Artistic Director of Seattle Children's Theatre and Graham Whitehead, former Artistic Director of Mermaid Theatre in Canada.

From the beginning Childsplay was committed to employing an ensemble of actor-teachers twelve months per year and is one of the few professional theatres for young audiences in the United States that has an ensemble of talented adult actors working together at the height of their creative powers. Some have been with the company for more than 20 years. Kyle Lawson, Theatre Critic for the Arizona Republic, called the company the Finest Acting Ensemble in the Southwest in a December 5, 2002 article. Some of the long-term associates are Katie McFadzen (1993-2009+), F. Scott Withers (1989-2008), Dwayne Hartford (1990-2009+), Jon Gentry (1981-2009+) and Debra K. Stevens (1983-2009+).

In 1986 Childsplay began to offer classes taught by its actor/teachers for pre-school through high school children. In the summer of 2007, the Childsplay Academy offered 21 separate classes in which young people explored the worlds of pirates, the three little pigs, Shakespeare's Scottish Play, and produced the Tony Award winning musical Urinetown . Childsplay actor/teachers also spend a week, a month, or a year in schools teaching theatre skills encouraging students to use their body, voice, and imagination to discover, create, and communicate - skills that can be applied to any academic area. Its residency activities have grown to include programs that help teachers integrate drama in core subject areas.

Childsplay presents more than 500 performances annually in school cafeterias and auditoriums in Arizona. In fall 2007 three separate ensembles of actors toured three plays throughout the state and one ensemble toured nationally.

After frequently moving its offices, Childsplay relocated its administrative offices and created its first public performance space at the former Rural School (Southern Avenue and Rural Road) in Tempe in 1984. In 1988 Childsplay moved its administrative offices, classes, and performances to the new Tempe Performing Arts Center (TPAC) in downtown Tempe and remained there until 2008. In 2008, a successful capital campaign enabled Childsplay to renovate and establish new headquarters at the former Mitchell School in Tempe. In 2007 they became one of the resident theatres performing at the new Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA).

Childsplay's mission statement is To create theatre so strikingly original in form, content or both, that it instills in young people an enduring awe, love and respect for the medium, thus preserving imagination and wonder, those hallmarks of childhood that are the keys to the future.

From the guide to the Childsplay Records, 1976-2008, (Arizona State University Libraries Child Drama Collection)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Childsplay (Theater group). Childsplay records : Child Drama Collection, Arizona State University, 1976-2008 [manuscript]. Arizona State University Libraries
creatorOf Childsplay Records, 1976-2008 Arizona State University Libraries Child Drama Collection
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Akins, Rebecca. person
associatedWith Arizona Theatre Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Bacal, Gary. person
associatedWith Gentry, Jon. person
associatedWith González, José Cruz. person
associatedWith Kornhauser, Barry. person
associatedWith Macdaniel, Florence. person
associatedWith Martin, Steve. person
associatedWith Metro Theater Company (St. Louis, Mo.) corporateBody
associatedWith Ross, Monica Long. person
associatedWith Ruch, Alan. person
associatedWith Saar, David. person
associatedWith Steur, Lisa van der. person
associatedWith Stevens, Debra K. person
associatedWith Still, James. person
associatedWith Surface, Mary Hall. person
associatedWith Tempe Center for the Arts (Tempe, Ariz.) corporateBody
associatedWith Whitehead, Graham. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Theatrical companies--Archival resources
Children's plays, American
Playwriting--Study and teaching
Children's theater
Young adult drama
Stage adaptations

Corporate Body

Active 1976

Active 2008



Ark ID: w6zq0hpx

SNAC ID: 14841864