Purple Crayon Players directs thought-provoking plays for young audiences


Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

The Purple Crayon Players’ stage adaptation of the popular children’s novel “The Phantom Tollbooth” in Feb. 2019.

Annie Xia, Reporter

Northwestern student group Purple Crayon Players, which produces Theatre for Young Audiences, chooses a quote each year to inspire its work.

This year’s is from cellist Pablo Casals: “You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.” The quote reflects the group’s mission to create thoughtful plays and events that make kids feel seen.

Communication junior Mark Berry, production manager for Purple Crayon Players, described putting on TYA plays for children as a joyous experience.

“You hear their laughter,” Berry said. “You see them getting so excited to take photos with the cast, to get their playbills signed. The experience of doing TYA is absolutely incredible.”

In the spring, Purple Crayon Players will organize its 14th annual PLAYground Festival, a weekendlong event from April 30 to May 1. Scheduled to be held in the 2122 Performance Hall, the festival will consist of workshops, feedback sessions and three brand-new plays.

During the fall, dozens of professional playwrights from around the country submitted scripts for the PLAYground Festival. The Purple Crayon Players executive board selected “Heart Strings,” “The Show Ends When the Stoop Breaks” and “The Dummy Class.” Each will be directed by an NU student.

“The Show Ends When the Stoop Breaks” follows a group of young immigrant friends as they watch their neighborhood and a beloved mural undergo gentrification.

Communication junior Arella Flur, producer for the PLAYground Festival, described how the characters respond to change with creativity.

“(As their home) is being torn down by the corporate America that is coming in, they’re reflecting on what the art and the music in their community mean to them,” Flur said.

“Heart Strings” explores the relationship of two non-biological, adopted sisters in Hawaii who live with their grandparents. The name of the play comes from the Hawaiian tradition of playing hand games with strings.

During the process of reading PLAYground scripts, “Heart Strings” was assigned to Communication freshman Kailey Morand, an assistant outreach chair for Purple Crayon Players. The theme of family had her in tears from the beginning.

“It’s a really sweet story about found family, accepting your culture and learning that blood doesn’t necessarily dictate who you love,” Morand said. “It was really impactful to me.”

“The Dummy Class” tells the story of a special education class that puts on a talent show for the school to prove itself as more than “the dummy class.” With the play’s cast of neurodiverse characters, Morand and the outreach chair are seeking input from the community and professionals to ensure “The Dummy Class” portrays the cast authentically.

“Something that is really misunderstood about TYA is that it doesn’t have to be simple, or just for really young kids,” Morand said. “Children can understand more heightened issues than most people know.”

This article has been updated to remove mention of Purple Crayon Players’ tentative winter show.

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