Folklore of the world has inadvertently become the running theme of summer children’s theater at the Liberty Center. Following last year’s “Anansi Stories,” about African myths, comes this year’s “Tales with Tales: Mitos de Mexico.” And like its predecessor, this one also comes from Missouri writers — in this case, the Warrensburg husband-and-wife team of Carl and Amber Hutcherson.
“Carl and I had written this children’s show several years ago, and we’d been workshopping it since then,” said Amber Hutcherson, who teaches Spanish at the University of Central Missouri. “And an opportunity became available to actually produce it here.”
“Mitos de Mexico” (“Myths of Mexico”) features four framing scenes of a grandfather (Joseph Webster, 13) telling tales to his ninos (grandchildren). It has the occasional Spanish sentence or word, but mostly these four myths are told in English.
Language is only one form of communication, after all. Because most of the 27 cast members (ages 4 to 15) play animals, behavior, movement and costuming are crucial in communicating the story to the audience.
During auditions, the directors asked the kids to portray various animals, then they matched them to a role based on personality, appearance and size.
“The idea behind the animal auditions was to see how willing they were to play an obscure idea like that,” said Carl Hutcherson, who is the co-director in addition to being the co-writer, and who has served as the lighting director on many Liberty Center shows. “It just gave us an idea of their willingness to do that.”
“And it did give us some personality traits,” added co-director Linda Bachman, of Warrensburg, who had previously helmed “A Bad Year for Tomatoes” and “Meet Me in St. Louis” at the Liberty Center.
Not many of the kids hesitated when asked to behave like animals. They dove into “Tales with Tails” much faster than most adults would.
“In fact, the tiniest little kids wanted to read for Lion, but they had to be the right size,” Bachman said.
Some costumes came from the Liberty Center’s storage facility, and some were newly designed. After seven weeks of practice, the first full dress rehearsal was on Monday.
“Adding costumes was their biggest thrill,” Carl Hutcherson said.
“Some wanted to know more about their costume than anything else,” Bachman said. “‘What’s my costume? When do I get my costume?’ We tried not to do that too soon, so they didn’t get caught up in that.”
While the young actors didn’t get to choose their preferred animal, many ended up happy with their role.
“Being a lion is really fun,” said Damon Lutjen, 14. “It lets me express who I am.”
He noted that he is playing the “mean” lion, whereas another actor plays the “nice” lion.
“I didn’t really have a part picked out, but I like it now that I have it,” said Alex Swords, 13, who plays Crow. “(Crow is) all over the place, a perfectionist, a crazy character. I’m portraying myself almost.”
The myth that features Cricket (Teagan Berger, 8) and Damon’s Lion is the favorite of many cast members.
“I think the audience will like the story of the lion and the cricket,” said Christine Sturgill, 9, who plays Lucy, one of the grandchildren. “Because at first she’s grabbing at his tail and running in slow motion. It’s pretty funny.”
“It’s really fun because we get to be ourselves, and she tries to beat me and I get mad about it,” Damon said.
“I hop onto his back and get a ride,” Teagan said.
“And I don’t notice it,” Damon said.
“Because I’m a tiny cricket,” Teagan said.
“I think everybody’s going to like my costume because it’s really funny,” Damon said. “It’s really hot, but it’s really fun and it expresses my character.”
Added Teagan: “The lions have to wear tutus for their manes.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Tales with Tails: Mitos de Mexico”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Liberty Center, 111 W. Fifth St., Sedalia