Theatre in the Grove director Sharon Cunningham believes in empowering her child actors with a sense of ownership in the play and to encourage their being a part of a collective community - the acting family. The children have participated in 'Phantom Tollbooth' not only by attending rehearsals and memorizing their lines but also actually making their own props and helping with costume construction. Cunningham feels this allows the young actors to bond and to foster their own creativity and imaginations. They take pride in 'their show.'

This is Cunningham's fifth experience with TITG's outreach program of providing a theatrical experience to area school children, and she's resolute in making sure the actors' experience with this show is enriching. She sees her role not as a director but rather as the 'Obi Wan Kenobi' who oversees, guides, and re-awakens their passion for theatre. To marshal 33 children and young adults ages 6 - 16, Cunningham uses a variety of games such as improvisation to teach listening and focusing skills.

Performing during the day poses its own challenges, but schools have been very supportive by allowing the kids to miss a school week. So the children don't fall behind, and a homework station has been established on the set to insure the actors are keeping up with their homework. Many of the cast members are homeschooled, so the parents use this as a learning opportunity.

In the play, Milo, the main protagonist, is a bored little boy. One day a box appears in his bedroom. Curious, he assembles its contents and with his faithful 'watchdog' enters a world through the Phantom Tollbooth.

Without giving away too much of the plot, Cunningham nonetheless feels there's a message that parents should heed - let children be children and foster their imaginations. Though the 'Phantom Tollbooth' is written for children, adults will enjoy its hilarity and numerous puns during its hour-long production.

Where: Theatre in the Grove

When: 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Oct. 20-21 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22.

Cost: $5

Contact: The Ice Cream Shoppe or visit the box office one hour prior to the show.

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