Preparing for a March 2020 Mercer Theater production was in full swing when it was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. With an almost entirely new cast and crew, “The Commedia Pinocchio” comes to life as the first show of the Mercer Players 2021-22 season.
The free, family-friendly play will be performed at 10 a.m. on September 24-25 and November 13, the latter during Mercer Homecoming Weekend, at the northeast corner of Tattnall Square Park. In the event of rain, the show will move inside the Tattnall Square Center for the Arts.
Frani Rollins, Mercer Assistant Theater Professor, was inspired to organize this event after noticing a lack of free theater events for children in the Macon community.
The arts build children’s confidence and teach them problem-solving skills. Theater engages them in different stories and shows them unique perspectives, which teaches empathy and understanding, Rollins said. Being a community event, it also sparks conversations and discussions.
“Growing up with the arts, I think has enriched my adult life. Having access to the arts is incredibly valuable for the growth of children in general,” Rollins said.
“The Comedy Pinocchio” is a 45-minute one-act show that the whole family can enjoy together at no cost. It’s a chance for parents to get their kids out of the house, and they don’t have to worry if their little ones can’t sit quietly all the time, said Rollins, who can relate to the mom. of a 3 year old child. old.
Spectators are encouraged to bring blankets and chairs to the show. Free snacks, bubbles, balloon animals and other fun “swags” will be available, Rollins said.
“The goal was to give the kids in the community something to look forward to, which I think is very special,” said junior Derrick Buie, a double major in biology and drama and actor on the show. “The kids were so excited for the ‘Phoenix Project’ show (in April), and I’m glad I can do something similar. It’s going to be something everyone is going to laugh about.
The play follows the classic Pinocchio story, but is told by five student actors who portray dozens of characters, Rollins said. Buie, for example, plays the character Puchin as well as Pinocchio’s father, Gepetto, and a few other secondary characters.
“The Pinocchio story is delightful, and doing Pinocchio in the style of comedy allows it to be much lighter,” Rollins said. “It will be a great event for families to get out and be outdoors and enjoy great theater.”
Although it is a scripted play, it also includes some improvisation as the actors interact with the audience. This improvisation allows the show to be more personal, as the actors break character, Buie said.
It’s a very interesting show, full of energy and slapstick humor, said Celinna Riordan, a theater student who is finishing her senior year project through her work as stage manager of the show.
“The actors play actors who play actors, which is a lot of fun,” Riordan said. “It’s an all-black cast, which you don’t see a lot in theater. I think it’s going to be really exciting for the community. I think it’s really good to show childhood characters in a way in which children in the community can see themselves, rather than a single typical portrait.
In addition to the actors, 10 students are involved in the production as a design team and support team. Buie is the only student to have participated in the original production. The others have since graduated.
Buie said he was disappointed when the show was canceled last year and thought he would never get the chance to do it. He is thrilled to finally see it come to fruition and hopes everyone has a great time and leaves with a smile.
“There was so much excitement about bringing this show back,” Rollins said. “There was a short delay between casting and production. They really did a fantastic job. Nobody likes what we’re going through right now, but this show and being able to present something that COVID has taken away from us… there’s something very healthy about our department being able to do this production.
Support for the event is provided by Mercer’s Research That Reaches Out Office, QuadWorks Student Programming Council, Macon-Bibb County Parks and Recreation, and Situation Room.