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Saving childhood

JMU's Children's Playshop offers an antidote to the culture of too much, too soon
By Tyler McAvoy (’12)

Photo of Bill Ruck

Children’s Playshop founder and director Bill Buck crafts entertainment that demonstrates a higher set of social values than kids often find in television and film.

It's an irony of modern life: One of the most worrisome issues for parents is their kids' entertainment. After all, children's worldview is being shaped by the gratuitous and provocative offerings of TV and film. The Internet looms large, as does the mind-numbing and sedentary world of video games and television. No wonder that parents eye the long, lazy days of summer with dread.

Enter JMU's Bill Buck, who believes children deserve better. "Our children are the future. Nothing should matter to us more than they do," he says.

Buck has thrilled young Harrisonburg and Rockingham County imaginations for a generation with fantastical creatures, favorite childhood tales and life lessons through Children's Playshop. It's the perfect antidote to the "too much, too soon" culture that threatens to destroy kids' emotional equilibrium.

Buck, just retired as head of the School of Theatre and Dance and his academic-year concerns with "grown-up" theater, enjoys the summertime foray into the demands and thrills of kid-sized theater, where imaginations are huge and liberated from a grown-up sense of proportion.

"We make a big deal for the kids. Special effects. Costumes. Lights. Colors. The whole production is a big deal," he explains. Wrapped in the big deal is attention to the developmental sense and the needs of children. That's a lot of trouble for a serious academic theater program to go to on behalf of a pint-sized audience.

JMU Children's Playshop, School of Theatre and Dance, Events - The Diary of a worm, a Spider and a fly, June 15-26. Cinderella, July 20-31 see www.jmu.edu/jmuarts for full details.

It is a heartfelt mission for Buck, who says, "We are doing something important any time we can expose young people to something informative, something with a positive message, or something that demonstrates a higher set of social values than they often find in television and film."

This June and July, the playshop director offers up the inner life of backyard beings and the trials and tribulations of a nascent princess.

Empowering children

The 2011 season's first play, The Diary of a Worm, a Spider and a Fly, explores the perilous world of elementary school relationships. It is kid-appropriate entertainment that addresses important social issues while it dazzles young audiences.

"I love how playshop introduces them to theater using stories that most of the children already know," says Hannah Martin ('13) a junior theater major. Martin plays the character Ant in the production.

The play, based on a popular children series by Doreen Cronin, focuses around the struggles and worries of a group of insects as they go through elementary school together. Problems like school dances, what they want to be when they grow up, and relationships with each other are addressed in a light-hearted, often hilarious way.

Children's Playshop hits home for local families.

"Children and their parents have always felt comfortable coming to our shows because we choose shows that have positive messages and that show the empowerment of children," says Buck.

They also open his young audiences to a future of literacy and the arts.

With Children's Playshop, childhood is in good hands.