After they skipped to get into character and before they took the stage, the actors at Salt Lake Acting Company could hear the waiting crowd yelling, “Pinkalicious!”
On this Tuesday morning, this was no typical theater audience. They squealed when the dad in the play shot bubbles from a gun. They clapped to a song about green vegetables, accompanied by tambourines. As Pinkalicious hunted for cupcakes, they yelled out the location. And as the parents onstage embraced, one boy loudly groaned, “Not that again.”
These 200 or so kindergartners and first-graders were watching what was, for most of them, their first theater performance. And it marked a special occasion for the theater company as well: the 10th year of producing children’s shows.
Hearing the kids call for the show to begin “gave me so much energy,” said Seth Foster, who plays Peter, the title character’s brother.
“All of these kids are in this room and are so invested. It’s so heartwarming to get out there and see the faces … so engaged. It makes me want to make the performance that much more special for them.”
Based on the popular book series, and now PBS show, “Pinkalicious The Musical” tells the story of Pinkalicious Pinkerton, who turns pink from eating too many cupcakes and has to learn moderation (and that green foods aren’t so bad). It opened to the public Friday and runs through Dec. 30.
Director Penelope Caywood, who is also artistic director of the University of Utah Children’s Theatre, said the play contains an empowering message about children sticking up for themselves and their beliefs and correcting their own mistakes.
“I want kids to come and have a magical experience,” added Fiona Hannan, who plays Pinkalicious, in an interview after the performance. “I remember when I saw my first show when I was a kid. I saw ‘Aladdin’ … and I just remember, still to this day, being so mystified and thinking it was so magical.”
In 2009, SLAC expanded its mission from producing “brave contemporary” theater by adding its first professional play for children. The shows run during the holiday season when the theater would normally be closed. And each year, SLAC has offered free performances to children from low-income neighborhoods.
Tuesday’s matinee of “Pinkalicious The Musical” was one of nine performances SLAC will offer to roughly 2,000 students at Title 1 elementaries, where at least 40 percent of the students live in poverty. The grades were picked because they lack funding for field trips and art education, according to SLAC. Over the past decade, SLAC estimates 20,000 students in kindergarten to second grade have seen its children’s productions. In addition, another 41,000 seats have been sold to Utah families.
The $52,000 to $68,000 SLAC makes on average in ticket sales and donations for the children’s shows doesn’t cover the cost of the $85,000 productions. The family-friendly fare does provide new avenues of funding from foundations and corporations that don’t finance SLAC’s adult-themed content.
But making money isn’t the point, says SLAC Executive Artistic Director Cynthia Fleming. The nonprofit wanted to become a resource to the community. It also puts on 30-minute selections out in the community, it’s collecting toys for children from neighboring Washington Elementary, and it partnered with The King’s English Bookshop, which will create a pop-up store in the lobby, and Flourish Bakery, which will sell concessions.
Fleming recalls being “scared to death” to add children’s theater, wondering, Can we pull it off? Will audiences want it?
The demand for the field trip performances is more than SLAC can accommodate, even after adding an extra day of shows this year.
“Putting on children’s theater is hard work, especially because we want it to be the caliber of our other plays,” Fleming said. But, “I would never not do children’s theater. … Their reactions during the play just feed you.”
Tuesday’s show was the first time kindergarten teacher Katie Creer had attended SLAC’s children’s performance, and she said it was educational and fun. It helps her Roosevelt Elementary students learn about character and story. Plus, “I work where a lot of the children have never been to a live performance,” she said.
All of SLAC’s children’s plays must be based on books, to promote literacy. SLAC produced a resource and study guide for the field trips, linking the production to state and national fine arts standards, including identifying similarities between the play and the students’ lives, and learning how to act appropriately in the audience.
One assignment asks students to draw their own set; another suggests they use their senses to describe their favorite color. SLAC hopes they’ll write a review and mail it back.
Judging from their reaction during the play, it’s a hit.
SEEING 'PINKALICIOUS THE MUSICAL’
What • The story of Pinkalicious Pinkerton, based on the popular book by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann that led to a book series and a TV show on PBS.
When • Through Dec. 30 at Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City, Saturdays and Sundays, noon and 3 p.m. Additional performances Friday, Dec. 21, at 7 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, Dec. 26-28, at noon and 3 p.m.
Tickets • $26; $16 for children; discounts for groups of 10 or more; saltlakeactingcompany.org or 801-363-7522