By MICHAEL WATERSON
Lawrence Olivier once said something to the effect that, for an actor, "Film makes you rich, television makes you famous, but the stage is what it's all about." The theater, where most actors first learn and practice the craft, is the essence of performing. As such its rewards are artistic, not material or vainglorious. At its heart, the theater is simply an actor and an audience sharing an imaginative experience.
Nowhere is that experience purer, more unadulterated, than in children's theater. Children are at once the most responsive and most difficult audience to entertain. A child's attention span is short and tolerance of boredom even shorter. And kids have a built-in phony detector. If you can entertain children, you are good.
So it shouldn't be surprising that Tim Giugni kept half a dozen adults entertained for 40 minutes Sunday night with his one-man (one-troll and three billy goat) production of "Three Billy Goats Gruff" at Dreamweavers Theater.
The fact that there were no kids in the audience shouldn't be surprising either, given the curtain time: 7 p.m. on a school night. Kids who would truly love the show - and any child of seven or younger will adore it - are all at home in their pajamas parked in front of the TV.
Giugni smoothly segues from introduction to explanation to performing, carrying his audience along with professional ease. In fact he probably had as much fun watching a group of adults growling like trolls along with him as he obviously did narrating the tale and acting all four parts, which he did with the help of a troll mask with a foot-long proboscis ("I realized after I made it, it was Richard Nixon," he quipped.) and three billy goat puppets.
Giugni, is founder and artistic director of St. Helena based Il Teatro Calamari. He has studied puppetry and worked with the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Tears of Joy Theater, DragonMakers and the Oregon Puppet Theater. He won an Emmy, among other awards, for puppetry and puppet construction for "The Land of I" in the 1992-93 season. While he performs his children's plays mostly for schools, the Dreamweavers run was intended to broaden the community theater's audience.
"I use masks, puppetry and physical theater," said Giugni. "I go out into the audience. I want them to understand that this is not TV, that I'm real."
He is all about getting the kids involved, soliciting responses with direct questions and encouraging physical participation in the form of stomping feet, waving hands, growling and heavy breathing. Even adults want to join right in. Giugni allows his audience to decide how scary a troll they want to see. And if things get too scary the kids are given a safety gesture which chills the troll out a bit.
But Giugni isn't worried about kids getting rambunctious. In fact that's his goal.
"There's a time to be quiet and sit still, but the theater is a place for expression."
Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Today, with a steady diet of television, children get less opportunity to develop that all-important faculty.
Parents, do your kids a favor: drag them away from the tube and head on down to Dreamweavers to exercise their imaginations. You might have as much fun as the kids. And you will give your children a memorable experience.