One hot August afternoon, several dozen children from around Hamburg filed into the cool interior of First Reformed United Church of Christ in Hamburg and settled, cross-legged, on the floor. Their caregivers sat on folded chairs and chatted quietly before Donna Sweigert, children’s librarian for Hamburg Public Library, came up front to welcome the group to a special summer performance: “The Clumsy Dragon” presented by the Teen Theater Ensemble of the Yocum Institute for Arts Education.
A young woman in a floral costume strummed on a guitar as a narrator in a sparkly blue gown began the performance, introducing a boy wizard named Alzabar and his desire to own a dragon (despite his nagging mother’s opposition). The play followed the adventures of Alzabar as he grows up and obtains a talking dragon, Mirabel. The two develop a friendship despite the dragon’s tendency to knock things over.
The performance featured simple staging, colorful costuming, silly songs and comical dialogue. The actors also snuck in some educational points – the narrator and lead actor would banter back and forth while explaining literary devises such as prologue, antagonist and set changes. And the thread running through the play was the theme of acceptance and friendship.
“I wouldn’t change a single thing about you,” Alzabar assures Mirabel at a tough moment, “even if I could. You’re my dragon, you’re the best.”
Audience participation was also encouraged. The actors would ask the children for input, incorporating their called-out answers into the dialogue. At one point, the narrator enlisted an adult and several children to take part in a dragon parade, a crucial part of the plot.
Audience participation is a highlight for performer Emily Rothermel, who was narrator (among other roles) in The Clumsy Dragon.
“It’s so much fun to see all of the little kids,” she said. “The show changes every time we’ve performed it.”
Jordan Eck, who played Alzabar, agreed.
“It’s interactive theater and we have to think on our feet,” he said.
Joining Rothermel and Eck in the Aug. 2 performance in Hamburg were Liza Gallen, who wrote and played the songs for the play, and Benjamin Houck, who played Mirabel the Dragon. The four were part of a rotating cast of six, directed by Joel Gori. Beverly Houck, artistic director for the Yocum Institute, explains that each teen performer auditions to be part of the Teen Theater Ensemble.
In addition to the kid-centric summer library piece, the group does improv shows, street festivals and a teen suicide prevention piece.
“We do everything from park programs to social justice pieces to family events,” Houck said.
The Hamburg performance, on Aug. 2, was part of a tour held in libraries across Berks County. The tour is sponsored by the Friends of Berks County Libraries and the Yocum Institute. For details on performances or how to audition for the teen ensemble, call Houck at the Yocum Institute: 610-376-1576.
The Yocum Institute for Arts Education, 1100 Belmont Ave, Wyomissing, has options in theater, dance, visual arts and music. For details on fall classes, visit www.institute-of-arts.org.
The Hamburg Public Library is located at 35 North 3rd Street, Hamburg. In operation since 1904, the library is part of the greater Berks County Public Libraries. Hamburg patrons are welcome at regular activities, including preschool story times, adult coloring group and a school-age Lego club. For details or library hours, click www.berks.lib.pa.us/sha or call 610-562-2843.