Theater

Taking Stage

The Manton Avenue Project wants to be your Valentine

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Been awhile since you’ve heard a good sonnet? This is your lucky month. Be MAP’s Valentine: the love sonnet play (February 15-17) is an original ode to amore, penned from an unusual perspective. How do we know you will love the show and the Manton Avenue Project (MAP) in general? Let us count the ways.

1. Kids wrote it

As their slogan states, MAP makes “theatre by children, for everyone.” So the playwrights are kids, but the intended audience is all ages. In preparation for this production, eight playwrights, ranging from fourth to seventh grade, wrote their own sonnets. Then, as a group, they collaborated to develop the plot and characters of a brand new play. During a weekend workshop, each worked with a personal dramaturgy mentor to compose one short act. And the eight combined acts made Be MAP’s Valentine: the love sonnet play.

Let’s pause for a moment to ponder the concept of fourth through seventh graders writing sonnets, never mind full-length collaborative plays. No need to hold the applause.

2. Adults perform it

At any given MAP play, professional and semi-pro actors grace the stage. You’ll spot familiar faces from local theatres like the Gamm, Elemental, Trinity Rep and more. For added excitement, during “Tag Team” shows like Be MAP’s Valentine, the actors change with each new act.

In addition to the talent onstage, adult volunteers help to build sets, make props, fashion costumes and provide tech offstage. An adult director, in this case Nicole Maynard, helms the production. But the kid playwrights are the real stars. They take turns watching the play from the vantage point of a small desk on the side of the stage – out of the spotlight, but visible to the audience. It’s a real treat to observe their reactions at seeing their written words come to life.

3. It’s guaranteed to make you grin

As Bill Cosby once taught us, kids say the darndest things. So you can bet that they also write the funniest plays. Every MAP show we’ve seen has been full of whimsy, off the wall humor and inspired characters. We’ve seen a bulldog rap, a moose do splits and that’s just for starters. MAP plays invite you to take a closer look at the world in all its wacky glory. They offer a gentle reminder that the “wisdom” of age sometimes dulls the view.

Youthful as they may appear, the playwrights behind Be MAP’s Valentine are all veterans of two previous MAP programs. Now on their third play, they’ve honed their skills. And, as funny as they can be, they don’t shy away from tough topics. This past year, MAP works explored themes like voting rights, the conservation of endangered animals and the messages of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The MAP kids’ take on love, which they broadly define as “the unselfish concern and care for others,” promises to be no less insightful.

4. It’s part of an innovative program, with an important mission

“MAP is unique because we work specifically with the Olneyville community, which was hit hard by the sub-prime lending and foreclosure crisis, and is one of the lowest income communities in Providence, and we work with a relatively small number of kids – growing each year by ten kids and working with the same kids for five or more years. By engaging the MAP kids in our programming for multiple years, we really get to know each child and regularly reinforce their faith in their capabilities,” explains Meg Sullivan, who took over the role of artistic director from founder Jenny Peek in November of 2011.

Now in its eighth year, MAP expands this month with the opening of a new clubhouse. The space, donated by the Olneyville Housing Corporation as part of their Olney Village initiative, will serve as a much-needed classroom, rehearsal room and office. Sullivan eagerly anticipates the opportunities for additional programming, including an option for teens as they “age out” of the existing MAP programs.

As the arts disappear from public schools, Sullivan sees firsthand how free participation in MAP helps kids to “learn the value of their voices and experience successes that can be transferred to other aspects of their lives.” As she puts it, “We are doing what we can to infuse the performing and literary arts into the lives of children during their formative years to help them become tomorrow’s creative thinkers and community leaders.”