Children’s theater company finalist in Zipcar “Students with Drive” competition

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Melissa Cagan Photography

Griffin’s Tale members applaud a student who wrote the story they are about to perform. The theatre company encourages students to write creatively and to dig into their imagination.

Janea Wilson, Arts and Entertainment Editor

On a Friday afternoon before a Griffin’s Tale show starts, college students can be found speaking an alien language to elementary school students as they try to translate what they’re being told in an opening game.

Griffin’s Tale Children’s Repertory Theatre Company is a student theatre group that adapts stories written by elementary school children into skits, songs and dances for the stage. For the past 30 years, Northwestern students have partnered with schools to collect stories from their students in the fall and to return to those same schools to perform adaptations in the spring.

“Each fall, our producers reach out to all the schools that we toured the previous year and say, ‘Please write back to us if you’re interested in having us work with your school again this year,’” SESP senior Henry Lang said. “We usually have one or two schools each year get off the waitlist. And that’s just the system that’s worked so far.”

Currently, Griffin’s Tale is a finalist for Zipcar’s “Students with Drive” competition that recognizes and awards student groups for making an impact on a community. If voted a winner, the club will use their prize to make their program more accessible to schools that cannot afford their fee. Voting is open to the public on Zipcar’s website until April 15.

Lang said the group has worked with a lot of the same schools for years and he wants to see their program expand, specifically to Chicago Public Schools — something they could achieve with funding from Zipcar’s competition.

Most of the schools Griffin’s Tale visits are private schools or in higher-income communities, since the club asks schools to pay for their visits. When the group is introduced before their performance, Lang said the principals often thank a certain foundation for giving them a grant that allowed them to book the show.

Communications junior Valen-Marie Santos is Griffin’s Tale’s junior director and said the group charges schools $100 to participate in their program, which helps to cover the costs of transportation, costumes, props and sometimes space rental.

“We don’t think that our mission of spreading a love of learning and creativity and writing should be limited to children who go to a school with funds, but that it’s something that every child deserves,” Santos said.

As the future leader of Griffin’s Tale, Santos said the extra funds would give the group the cushion to perform at schools without charging, while maintaining the same level of performance.

Communications senior Lucy Panush, the club’s senior director, said the grant will also allow for different types of stories to be told, because the club changes very little from the story they receive to what is performed.

Panush said the children and teachers at the schools Griffin’s Tale visits are always very excited when they come. She said taking part in this program can also be an outlet of joy for the children.

“I’m so proud to be a part of something that encourages kids to use their imaginations, to embrace their creativity and to really work on their writing,” Panush said.

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