MASON CITY | Stebens Children’s Theatre is returning to West Africa for its traveling school show.
Last year’s offering, “Why Mosquitoes Buzz,” was a West African folk tale adapted for stage by Jeremy Kisling.
On Saturday, the theater will introduce its audience to “Anansi the Spider,” also by Kisling of Lexington Children’s Theatre in Kentucky.
After the public performance at 7 p.m. March 25, the show will be available to tour to area schools.
Anansi is one of the most important characters of West African folklore.
“He’s in the midst of all these tales, representative of storytellers” said Tom Ballmer, executive director of Stebens Children’s Theatre. “In our tale, our storyteller — he’s a trickster hero.”
Ballmer called Anansi the precursor of trickster Br’er Rabbit, a well-known character from the Uncle Remus tales of the southern United States.
“All cultures have a hero,” according to Ballmer, a small character who “outwits adversaries.”
“In this show, Anansi’s adversary is really himself,” said Austin Bailey, who plays Edwardo.
“Our story is all about the spider wooing the beautiful Aso, daughter of Nyame, the sky god,” Ballmer said.
Nyame sets three goals for Anansi before he’ll allow the spider to marry his daughter, and the daughter sets another goal.
Lydia Ouverson plays Anansi.
“It’s so physical. I think I really underestimated the physical exertion in doing the show,” Ouverson said.
Unlike “Mosquitoes,” each actor plays just one character, but those characters are challenging.
“I have to be a man, a spider and also have to be cute,” Ouverson said.
Micah Emmons plays Nyame.
“He’s got two voices,” Ballmer said, one as the sky god, and another when he’s talking to his daughter.
“I like how different every single character is,” said Hannah Harting, who plays Lelia.
The crocodile is clumsy, the eagle is afraid of heights, the firefly is afraid of the dark.
Since most of the actors have previously done an African show, they're looking for ways to make it different.
One difference audiences will see is in the costumes, which are not traditional, according to Catherine Gobeli, who plays Aso.
“Our costumes are so modern,” Harting said, most notably the multi-colored leggings.
Ballmer said they're looking forward to taking the show to schools around North Iowa.
"There’s a lot of audience participation," said Natania Emmons, who plays Chloe. "The kids come up..."
"We make them into little characters of their own," added Gobeli.
While this play is "very much kid-oriented, a lot of elements make it enjoyable for anyone to watch," Ouverson said. The morals and side jokes give it the "potential to be enjoyed by just about anybody."