Kids bounce in their seats to help a friend

When was the last time you went to the theater and were told it was OK to laugh as loud as you like, clap wildly at the end and shout suggestions at the performers?...

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Students in Megan Johnson’s first grade class from Stowe Elementary enthusiastically answer Cheryl Skafte’s question. As the narrator, Skafte walked onto the stage throughout the performance to encourage the students to blurt out suggestions and hints to help the main character. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)

When was the last time you went to the theater and were told it was OK to laugh as loud as you like, clap wildly at the end and shout suggestions at the performers?
If you were a first-grader at Stowe Elementary School, it was just last week when the class previewed “Balloonacy” at The Underground.
The interactive show is a part of the Duluth Playhouse Theater for the Young Audiences programs premiering this summer.
“When the actors are on stage, I want you to remember a few things. We do want to be a respectful audience for everyone, but - if something is funny, you are totally allowed to laugh,” said Sarah Diener, education and community outreach coordinator for the Playhouse, as the group of children erupted with laughter.
It would not be the only time the children would laugh loudly as they watched the short tale of the “Old Man” and the red balloon. Starring Jonathan Manchester, the show is about a solitary man who is steadfast in his silent routine, until a balloon finds him and insists on becoming his friend. Through all the ups and downs of a new relationship, the balloon teaches the man to play again. The play runs about 30 minutes and provides several opportunities for the involvement to engage young children.
“So often kids are told to sit still and be quiet. But this is an opportunity for the kids to be really engaged and feel like they’re a part of the show,” Diener said.
The children are asked to participate by providing suggestions for the Old Man, laugh at the funny parts, show the Old Man their best dance moves and call out when they see the balloon appear behind the window.
“You would not think that a balloon popping up behind a window would elicit that much of a reaction,” Diener said.
The Old Man never says a word, but it is very easy to understand by his reactions.
“What’s most amazing is to see how much the kids feel for the man. Their reactions have been incredible,” Diener said. “I think having that personal connection with someone on stage makes a huge difference. It’s not like watching something on a screen. You have someone real to empathize with.”
This is the first year the Playhouse has offered Theatre for Young Audiences, as they did not have the space to do so before.
“After the Children’s Museum moved out of the Depot we had this new space [The Underground] so we created the program to introduce kids to theater,” Diener said.
The show will run two performances every Saturday in June at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. (with the exception of June 21 due to conflicts with Grandma’s Marathon). It is recommended for children preschool aged and up. Tickets are $5 but Depot Museum and excursion ticket holders get a discount ticket.
In July TYA will continue each Saturday with a local theatre company, The Boogers, bringing “The Adventures of Sticky the Rock.”

Who: Theatre for Young Audiences
What: Balloonacy
When: Saturdays in June 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.
Tickets: $5 at the door, $1 off with train museum or excursion ticket
Contact: (218) 733-7555 or

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First graders from Stowe Elementary laugh at the Old Man and the balloon’s antics throughout Balloonacy. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)

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