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Jan. 19, 2006
Contact: Charla Jenkins, University Theatre, (785) 864-2684.

Theatre for Young People presents play about friendship between tree, bird

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas Theatre for Young People will present “The Short Tree and the Bird That Could Not Sing” by Dennis Foon Jan. 30-Feb. 8 in the William Inge Memorial Theatre in Murphy Hall.

Public performances of the play about an unlikely friendship between a Short Tree and a Bird are at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5. Performances for children in the first, second and third grades of Lawrence and Douglas County schools are at 1 p.m. Jan. 30-Feb. 3 and 9:45 a.m. Feb. 6-8.

The play is directed by Jeanne Klein, associate professor of theatre and film; scenic and lighting design is by Robert Sturner, Overland Park senior; and costume and puppet design is by Christina Montgomery, Lawrence senior. Sound design is by Nick Kostner, Murdock senior. Paul Meier, professor of theatre and film, is vocal coach for the production.

Foon, a renowned Canadian playwright, originally wrote “The Short Tree and the Bird That Could Not Sing” as a story for his 5-year-old daughter, who was feeling the pangs of separation from him during his playwriting residence in Toronto. His story was published as a picture book in 1986 and in 1992 he was asked to develop the story into a longer play by Young People’s Theatre in Toronto and the Mermaid Theatre, a puppet company in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Since then, it has been staged in the United States by such professional companies as Seattle’s Children’s Theatre and the Metro Theater Company of St. Louis.

In the play, a Short Tree wishes it could grow up big and tall like the other two trees living next to it in a northern forest. When two lumberjacks cut down the trees and pluck a wee, little flower growing nearby, the Short Tree feels very alone in the world. When a Bird that cannot sing flies in, it grows to like the Short Tree and they become good friends. As time passes and the Short Tree’s leaves start to turn yellow, the Bird must leave to fly south for the winter.

During the long, cold winter, the Short Tree feels lonelier than ever with its bare branches covered in snow. From a southern beach near the ocean, the Bird writes postcards to the Short Tree about its adventures.    

As the snow melts and springtime arrives, the Short Tree starts feeling growing pains and worries about the Bird making it back north. Finally, when the Bird returns, the Short Tree introduces it to all its new friends. The Bird is so happy to be back home with the Short Tree and its friends that it begins to sing.

Klein said the Short Tree, which grows from a small tree to a taller tree in one year, is a metaphor for a small child who feels alone and lonely in a great big world. Through the seasons, the Short Tree realizes it’s not alone because there are lots of things nearby watching over it.

The play asks the audience to confront its fears about loneliness and the sense of feeling alone, small and lost in a great, huge world, she said.
 
“Like the Short Tree that discovers many companions surrounding it, we need not feel alone when our best friends and family members live in far away places. We need only to look around our natural environments and find so much company to fill our lives with simple pleasures each day and night,” she said.    

The play includes a variety of puppets and actors who play many different characters, including flowers, trees, balloons, snakes, squirrels, the North Wind, the Big Dipper, beetles and fish.

General admission tickets for “The Short Tree and the Bird That Could Not Sing” will be on sale in the University Theatre Ticket Office one hour before each performance; seating is limited. Tickets are $10 for the public, $5 for all students and $9 for senior citizens and KU faculty and staff.

Klein said the play will be most appreciated by families and children ages 4 and older. Children will be seated on the floor, while parents, teachers and the public will be seated in chairs behind them.

Students in the cast and other production roles include (listed by name, class and major, parents’ names, high school and role or responsibility):

DOUGLAS COUNTY
From Lawrence
Christina Montgomery, senior theatre design major, Katherine Montgomery, Rotterdam, Netherlands; high school in the Netherlands; costume and puppet design.

JOHNSON COUNTY
From Olathe
Cali Gilman, sophomore theatre and film major, daughter of Barbara Signor; Olathe South High School; Actor/Puppeteer 4.

Steven Karlin, freshman theatre major, son of Ron and Brenda Karlin; Blue Valley High School; The Short Tree.

From Overland Park
Robert Sturner, senior theatre design major, Gene and Bonnie Sturner; Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, Kansas City, Mo.; scenic and lighting design.

KEARNY COUNTY
From Lakin
Chel Shipley, freshman theatre major, daughter of Price Shipley and Sue Shipley; Lakin High School; The Bird.

KINGMAN COUNTY
From Murdock
Nick Kostner, senior theatre and film major, son of Tom and Sharon Kostner; Kingman HIgh School; sound design.

RENO COUNTY
From Hutchinson
Lance Hill, junior theatre and film major, son of Bradley J. Hill and Joani Brown; Central Christian High School; Actor/Puppeteer 3.

SEDGWICK COUNTY
From Wichita
Elliott Sowards, senior theatre and film major, son of Stephen K. Sowards and Elizabeth M. Willis; Wichita Collegiate School; Actor/Puppeteer 1.

COLORADO
From Littleton
Kacie Dienstbach, junior theatre and film major, daughter of Eric and Donna Dienstbach; Heritage High School; Actor/Puppeteer 2.

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