SIUE Cougar Theater Company engages children in local community

SIUE students who are part of the Cougar Theater Company perform "Heads and Tales." Photo courtesy of Joshua Douglas.

SIUE’s Cougar Theater Company continues to extend outreach to children in the local community, and recently performed “Heads and Tales,” a play by Carol Lauck.

In late September, SIUE theater alumni Joshua Douglas directed the cast of five students: Nathan Ash, Arika Craig, Thalia Cruz, Amanda Juenger and Holleh Tehari at Dunham Hall Theater.

Douglas said he thought the production, free to the public, was great and that the performers did a wonderful job.

“The kids got a kick out of it,” Douglas said. “The entire audience enjoyed it– not just the kids. It went really well.”

The play, according to Douglas, is about a 10-year-old boy who tries to write a story for homework but has trouble and falls asleep. In his dream state, he meets a professor and two sidekicks who help him through comedic roles free his imagination and be creative.

Douglas said he enjoys being involved in theater for young audiences.

“Kids give you the most honest answer—if you’re doing well, if you’re not doing well, if you’re scaring them, or if you’re making them laugh or crack up,” Douglas said.

He added that adults in their perspectives of shows are tainted by what they know-culture, politics and religion.

“But kids don’t have any of that, so it’s really pure,” Douglas said. “That’s one of the main reasons I love doing children’s theater.”

Douglas said children’s exposure to the theater arts is extremely important for individual growth.

“The theater is a free-spirited world where you can be who want to be without being judged,” Douglas said. “[Children] don’t have to hide like they do at school. A lot of times you have kids in grade schools who can’t be who they want to be because they get bullied.”

Douglas added that children can experience theater in ways different from playing video games or watching movies. He noted that children’s theater shows can involve fun audience participation which he said occurred during “Heads and Tales.”

Douglas said the Cougar Theater Company is great in promoting arts in education among children which he believes to be important.

“The arts are fading out in schools at a rapid rate. It’s something that we as artists need to make a point to stand up for,” Douglas said. “That’s the kind of stuff that keeps the child engaged rather than video games.”

Theater professor Peter Cocuzza said he founded the program in 2011 which is funded by SIUE’s Department of Theater and Dance.

Cocuzza said the goal in creating the Cougar Theater Company was to provide theater education students the opportunity create, perform and direct productions for young audiences.  He added that the idea was to tour the productions to area schools.

“I don’t know that we really have a junior theater company that has an official outlet for that age group in this sort of metro area of St. Louis,” Cocuzza said. “So we were thinking we were going fill a need, provide opportunities and expose people to theaters.”

The Cougar Theater Company will perform “Heads and Tales” once again on October 25 at 7:00 p.m. in Dunham Hall Theater as part of Friends of Theater and Dance’s (FOTAD) Season for the Child.

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