Asheville is a city rich in theater and music for adults. But as a parent, Attic Salt Theatre Company executive director and educational coordinator Marci Bernstein was disappointed in the affordable opportunities for young children. In order to help fill that gap, she and Attic Salt artistic director Jeff Catanese created the Saturdays on Stage series for family audiences.
The program, launched last December, runs each Saturday morning at The Magnetic Theatre and was recently extended through the end of the year. All shows are appropriate for ages 4 and older, and, in addition to providing copious amounts of fun, they have the power to aid a child’s development on numerous levels.
“Studies continually show the benefits of theater for kids who are brought up either seeing it or participating in it on a regular basis,” Catanese says. “From an increased sense of empathy to higher reading comprehension skills and public speaking, we hope that what we do can both educate and entertain. We aim to help create lifelong theatergoers as well as participants.”
Aiding that mission is a DIY aesthetic that Catanese says gives children the confidence to create their own stories, plays and anything they want out of their imaginations. Attic Salt’s productions skew toward simple props, costumes and sets made from household objects or materials that may easily be obtained. The shows’ homemade items are accessible to those willing to get a little crafty.
“I think that, secretly, our favorite part of creating the shows is figuring out how to make everything that we need,” Bernstein says. “Our very first show, Feet Water, featured a giant bucket of dirty water as the main character. We built a puppet made from a Nerf ball, a bedsheet and some barbecue tongs. We were hooked after that.”
Continuing that tradition, Tricky, Tricky Trickster Tales uses different hats for the production’s 12 characters. “This shows kids how something so simple can change an actor into a turtle, for instance, but is also something that they can make at home in less than an hour,” Catanese says.
The Tale of the Pig features a giant upright-walking hog that frequently attracts post-show questions about its construction. “I love telling them that the pig’s head started out as an oven mitt and the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper,” Bernstein says.
Actors interact with children before each play — and often during the show as well — to help convey that they’re merely fellow humans who just happen to be acting out a story. Limiting each show to two performers further elevates the accessibility of theater. In addition to Bernstein and Catanese, the cast includes Josephine Thomas, Hallee Hirsh and Christy Montesdeoca, all of whom Catanese says are equipped with an immense sense of fun. “It’s often said that kids are the harshest critics, but the only way I’ve seen where they will really come down on you is if you are phoning it in and portraying the joy of the tales instead of experiencing it,” he says.
Tricky, Tricky Trickster Tales will be performed each Saturday in June. Echo, Narcissus, Icarus and Friends: Greek Myths is slated for much of July and The Tale of the Pig returns Aug. 20 and 27. (There are no shows July 2 and Aug. 6 and 13.) While the scripts remain the same each week, Bernstein notes that children love repetition. Upon return visits to the same play, she says, the young audiences often find new things that they missed the first time around.
“They understand jokes they may have not gotten right away, and elements of the more sophisticated stories make more sense to some kids once they have a chance to revisit them,” Bernstein says. “Our Greek myths show is a popular one for repeat viewers, but there is a girl who has seen The Tale of the Pig a few times because she thinks it’s hilarious that the pig in the story eats waffles and pine cones for breakfast. I so appreciate that she honed in on one tiny little detail that she loves and has come back multiple times to enjoy it.”
Series regulars have also reported back that Attic Salt’s DIY mission is proving successful. During the Q&A session that follows each show, kids often ask how a bit of stag craft was enacted or how something was made. “We’ve heard from moms and dads about how their child has become ‘obsessed’ with re-creating something from our shows, and some have even started putting on shows for their friends and families,” Catanese says. “It was a great pleasure one morning when a little girl, who had seen a previous show, presented me with a Trickster Tale that she had written.”
Due to their universally relatable themes of kindness, wisdom and magic, these folktales and others will continue to be a major part of Saturdays on Stage going forward. Starting this fall, some Tall Tales will make their way into the mix as well. A fan of those stories since he was a child, Catanese is looking forward to bringing Attic Salt’s silly-yet-sophisticated brand of writing and humor to some genre classics.
WHAT: Attic Salt Theatre Company’s Saturdays on Stage family series
WHERE: The Magnetic Theatre, 375 Dept St., themagnetictheatre.org
WHEN: Saturdays at 10 a.m. $5/infants are free