Pushcart Players, the Verona-based Emmy-nominated and award-winning touring theater for young audiences, has received a generous grant from The Whitehill Foundation (Montclair) to support performances of their latest productions and in-school theater education programs. Funding is targeted to partially underwrite performances to underserved schools in Northern New Jersey.
Founded in 1999, The Whitehill Foundation is a private nonprofit organization that awards grants in the areas of elementary and secondary education, health, human services, and sports and recreation. The Foundation supports children and youth, economically disadvantaged people, low income and poor people, academics, and students.
“We are very grateful for The Whitehill Foundation’s continued involvement,” said Paul Whelihan, Pushcart’s producing artistic director. “Social-profit organizations like Pushcart rely on support from the enlightened foundation, government, and corporate sectors. It is through their involvement that we are able to reach out to connect with students who might otherwise not have the opportunity to see a live theater performance, or to participate in a theater arts related workshop or program.”
Pushcart Players’ mission is to bring musical theater productions of substance and merit, and innovative educational residencies to young people in their school environments. Performances are curriculum oriented, focusing on literacy, history, values clarification, and music. Workshops and residencies focus on the craft of theater itself, promoting all the benefits of creating theater.
Whelihan further noted the coinciding of Pushcart’s and Whitehill’s priority to reach out to schools and populations that would not normally have the resources to include cultural enrichment. “It is only through foundation and corporate grants that some of New Jersey’s young people can participate in live, professional theater,” he said.
Pushcart Players has traveled over 2 million miles nationally and abroad since 1974 to serve more than 8 million children and their families with meaningful theatre. From the little red schoolhouse to The White House, this dynamic company has received numerous state and private awards for excellence and innovation. A cast of professional Actors’ Equity actors and stage managers come with complete scenery, lighting and sound systems, making every performance adaptable to any location.
Pushcart Players will be bringing many different productions to schools and theaters throughout 2018: “Ellis Island: Gateway to America” is a spirited salute to America that takes a loving look at a small group of immigrants arriving in the early 1900’s, and follows their experiences in shaping U.S. history into the 1960’s. “The Last Butterfly” is a multi-media Holocaust awareness play that teaches tolerance, and offers a springboard for broader discussion of bully behavior and character development issues.
“Stone Soup…and other stories” is a well-seasoned blend of multi-cultural folk tales from around the world, with a gentle emphasis on the joy of reading. “Peter and the Wolf” features the traditional Russian folktale set to the beloved music of composer, Sergei Prokofiev. A different instrument and melody represents each character and theme, celebrating courage, ingenuity, and leadership in young people.
In “The Velveteen Rabbit,” a young boy’s love and a little nursery magic help transform the Velveteen Rabbit from a favorite plaything into a real rabbit. The Boy and Velveteen embark on exciting imaginary adventures, from deep dark caves to the wide open sea, and together they learn the true meaning of friendship in this musical re-telling of one of America’s favorite storybooks. “A Cinderella Tale – Happily Ever After” is Pushcart’s trademark take on the enduring story about the universal longing to overcome adversity. It celebrates dreaming dreams and promotes goodness, generosity, and compassion.
Coming to the Pushcart repertoire in October of 2018 is “Lift Every Voice: The Hope and Promise of America’s Civil Rights Movement.” In the year that marks the fifty year commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, the production is a multi-media piece that explores the music, images, and spirit of mid-century America. Pushcart Players celebrates the ordinary people and the extraordinary events of this pivotal time in history.
“Pushcart offers sensory friendly performances of all our productions,” said Whelihan, “wherein the plays are adapted to be accessible to children on the Autism spectrum and with other cognitive disabilities.” In adapting the performance, music is kept at a consistent level, avoiding any sudden or jarring bursts of sound. Audience space remains well-lit and adjustments are made to script and prop use to avoid innuendo and complicated mime.
“Arts education and learning are at the center of Pushcart’s mission, goals and operations,” continued Whelihan. “While touring productions are designed to educate in other subjects, our theater education programs embrace arts curriculum standards that engage students to create, perform, respond and connect. To teach theater for theater’s sake.”
“Players Onstage” are long-term residencies creating theater with children on the Autism spectrum (currently in Newark and Clifton), and with the general population as well. Pushcart conducts workshops with at-risk youth in the juvenile correctional system, and is the not-for-profit arts partner for a reader’s theater program at MLK School 6, both in Passaic. Student productions in and out of New Jersey are directed by Pushcart artistic staff and teaching artists in a program called “Kids Do Broadway.” And Pushcart offers “The Informance,” pre or post performance workshops that offer a hands-on exploration of all elements of musical theater: the artist, the medium, and the career. All productions are accompanied by study guides with resource lists, bibliographies, show summaries, suggested activities, and further discussion points for teachers, parents, and group leaders.