Free for All

Now in its 22nd year, Boulder's Imagination Makers Theater Company does something rare and wonderful for kids: It gives credibility to their own sweet, immature voices. Instead of force-feeding them drama created by adults who think they know what kids will like and understand, this troupe plucks its productions from the mouths and pens of babes, working with youthful teams to develop plays that are performed by grown-up actors. After all, who knows what's funny or poignant to a kid better than another kid?

Case in point: Shakespeare himself was put to the kid test by Imagination Makers a few years ago, when the company gathered fourth- and fifth-graders from two schools (one in Boulder, the other in Denver) to create Give It Up, a child's-eye view of the Bard's The Merchant of Venice. Their story was rewritten based on a simplified version of the original, retaining the ruling themes of revenge and forgiveness, minus the annoying stereotypes. The result: an hour-long show suitable for kids ages five to twelve and their families, which has since been performed at schools across the Front Range, tuning a whole new audience in to the intricacies of the Bard. Now you, too, can be drawn in: Two free performances take place at 11 and 1 on November 16 at the Boulder Public Library auditorium, 1000 Canyon Boulevard. For details, call 303-441-3196 or e-mail [email protected].

How did the kids manage to retain that Shakespearean flavor? "In using student writing, I do not go through and clean up the grammar," notes company spokeswoman Rosie Waters. "I think that's whitewashing it. Some disagree, but that's what I do." The young scripters, she adds, were introduced to some basics of Elizabethan language, and those were sprinkled into the final text: "In one place, a character exclaims, 'Thou are a jerk!' But then I go out and hire these awesome actors who can make the grammar sound normal."

And how do they retain that kid-like flavor? By utilizing kid-like humor, Waters says. For instance, Portia's reinvented suitors include Prince Mozzarella, who carries pounds and pounds of stinky cheese around wherever he goes, and another prince who keeps a pet foot named Frederick. That sort of thing has the ten-year-olds rolling in the aisles. Remember: Who knows better than a kid?

But Waters insists Give It Up isn't just for kids. It's for everyone, including the original author. "I think Shakespeare would have thought it quite an amusing interpretation," she says. And since he was a free thinker, we don't doubt it for a moment.

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd