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Chester County Press

The silliness returns as KATS stages 'Alice and the Stolen Tarts'

01/07/2019 08:24AM ● By J. Chambless

The Caterpillar and Alice in the KATS production of 'Alice and the Stolen Tarts.'

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

If you've ever wanted to cheer the heroine and boo the villain in a theater, you are encouraged to do so at the annual comedy musical production by the Kennett Amateur Theatrical Society. You'll get a chance this year on Jan. 18 and 19, when the all-volunteer group presents “Alice and the Stolen Tarts” at the Kennett High School auditorium.

This year's show, directed by Chris Ramsey, is loosely based on characters from “Alice in Wonderland,” but takes the story in new directions – some of them depending on whatever happens onstage.

“The story starts with Alice as an older woman, talking with her maid in London,” Ramsey said. “She's thinking about how her life might have turned out differently. The White Rabbit arrives with a magic tart from Wonderland, and Alice eats the tart and is magically transported back to Wonderland, as a young woman again. So that's the basic premise of the story. The magic tarts go missing, and the rest of the story is about trying to restore the wonder to Wonderland.”

There's always a bit of unpredictability in the group's shows, which are based on British pantomime, a theatrical tradition that began in the 1700s that mashes up fairy tales, folklore, songs and satire. And everyone – cast, crew and audience – is invited to share the fun.

Standard elements of any “panto” production are a silly song for the audience to sing with the cast, gender-swapping roles (women playing men, men playing women), some sort of character who narrates or explains the action as the show goes along, and “skin parts,” which is often a pantomome animal – played by someone in a costume – that trots on at some point.

For audiences who have never seen this kind of show, it's not an evening of sitting in respectful silence. You are encouraged – and in some cases, coerced – into booing, cheering, singing along or talking back to the actors.

Getting an audience comfortable with the interaction “takes about six or eight years,” Ramsey said, laughing. “Since we're on our 18th production, we've got our audience pretty well trained. And those who are novices to our shows catch on pretty quickly.”

The theater group, which goes by their initials, KATS, began in 2000 with a series of inauspicious auditions that drew very few people. But the group has expanded as friends invited friends, and audiences saw how much fun the shows were. Each year, there are about a dozen original songs written for the shows. KATS is the second oldest continuously operating British pantomime company in the country.

Beth Holladay, who is the group's board secretary and regular cast member, is marking her 15th KATS production. Her involvement began by taking her daughter to rehearsals. “My daughter saw the show for the first time when she was in first grade. I went with her to rehearsals and thought, 'Well, this is fun. I can probably do this.' I had taken ballet since I was 5 and I'd been on stage, but it had been a while since I actually had to speak on stage, so when I first got up there I was like, 'Oh, no! Can't I just dance?' But it's always fun to be someone else.”

KATS has more than 100 members who are actively participating in productions. The young people who are welcomed into KATS can be as young as 5 or 6, so adults are designated as “Child Wranglers” in the program each year. While corralling that much youthful energy can be a chore, it does lead to children getting hooked on the fun of the show and returning, year after year, to take bigger roles. Or, drawing in their parents to take part.

The scripts are loose enough to allow some improvisation, Holladay said. “It's silly, it's fun, there's a wide range of ages,” she said. “You can definitely bring kids to see these shows. Everybody gets to yell, so if you're concerned about your kid being a little squirmy in the theater, it's no problem.”

“Alice and the Stolen Tarts” will be staged at the Kennett High School auditorium (100 E. South St., Kennett Square) on Jan. 18 at 7:30 p.m., and Jan. 19 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children. The entrance to the parking lot is on South Union Street. The auditorium is on the second floor. Elevator access is available for those with special needs. Tickets are available at www.callkats.org.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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