Dallas Children's Theater Blog

Astonishing Kids And Families With The Fun of Broadway-Like Plays and A Lot More!

A Conversation About Puppetry & Storytelling at DCT

RobynHeadshot'11“There’s a participatory energy that translates the symbolism of the puppet because we are filling out the full picture in our minds.”

Robyn Flatt, DCT Co-Founder and Executive Artistic Director


Kathy Burks“It’s everyone who loves a good story, not just children.”

Kathy Burks, Founder of Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts




Nancy Schaeffer“There are times when a puppet can tell the story best.”

Nancy Schaeffer, DCT Education Director




Storytelling takes many forms in theater arts. Moving performances by live actors, visually stunning puppetry, and clever blends of both elements can create a very unique production. While puppetry has been utilized in DCT shows from the very beginning of its 29 year history, several shows in DCT’s current 2012-2013 season feature puppetry in a prominent way. DCT’s Executive Artistic Director Robyn Flatt, Education Director Nancy Schaeffer and Resident Artist Kathy Burks tell us from their unique individual perspectives what it is like incorporating puppetry into the artistry at DCT.


Photo by Peter Mathew

Photo by Peter Mathew


DCT audiences are in for a special treat when our mates from Australia, Terrapin Puppet Theatre, present their highly acclaimed show BoatsApril 19 – 21. Robyn Flatt first saw the show in Seattle at One Theatre World, and she was so impressed by their unique storytelling and artistry that she decided to ask them to perform here in Dallas, making it DCT’s very first international presentation. “It’s a marvelous family piece. You get a sense of what it is like to go out on the sea, and all of their magic is totally visible to us,” she says. Boats follows a very Australian tradition of telling tall tales with found objects and embellishing them for the sake of the story. Puppets are tied from ropes, a boat is made from a table and many of the sound effects are made live. She adds, “I think they are enchanting with the variety of ways they use the objects around them to bring their stories to life.”


Photo by Karen Almond

Photo by Karen Almond

Rumpelstiltskin and The Nutcracker

Of course, you can’t talk about puppetry without mentioning Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts. This season, the renowned troupe performed its productions of Rumpelstiltskin, a faithful adaptation of the classic Brothers Grimm tale with rod puppets that magically come to life, and The Nutcracker, which presents a great variety of characters and moods and contains departures from realism with multiple forms of puppetry. “There’s so many ways to tell a story through puppetry,” says Burks.

After a performance of Rumpelstiltskin this spring, a grandmother and her grown daughter told Burks that they had seen the troupe’s shows at the Haymarket Theater years ago and now were bringing a grand-daughter to see it. “That’s good stuff that I have enriched all three generations,” she says. “That’s the ultimate test when you get the audience to respond.”

Photo by Karen Almond

Photo by Karen Almond

DCT’s response to the company has always been positive and the two companies’ mutual admiration for one another was made public in 1996 when they officially joined forces. Since then, Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts has been a resident company at DCT, presenting two or three productions annually as part of the DCT season. Plus, on occasion, Burks’ master puppeteers are asked to collaborate or advise on DCT productions, too. “We frequently need puppetry techniques in our shows, and having an expert so close and involved has been a great asset to DCT,” says Flatt.


Photo by Karen Almond

Photo by Karen Almond

Goodnight Moon

This January, DCT transformed into the famous Great Green Room for Goodnight Moon, which incorporated both puppetry and live actors.  “We worked for months on the best ways to incorporate many types of puppetry into the production,” says show director Nancy Schaeffer. “And of course, I could never have done it without the amazing collaboration with Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts. They worked so hard to make the magic happen.” Expanding upon the famous childhood bedtime story, additional characters and flights of fancy are brilliantly woven together, staying true to the nostalgic feeling of the tale while making a stunning production on stage. “It was one of the most challenging shows to put on technically – but it was also one of the most rewarding.”


Photo by Karen Almond

Photo by Karen Almond

Looking Ahead: Puppetry
in the 2013-2014 Season

So what is coming up next? DCT’s highly anticipated 30th anniversary season for 2013-2014 has even more fun surprises and stories to tell. Flatt, Schaeffer and Burks share their final thoughts on what they look forward to next season and the importance of keeping alive DCT’s rich tradition of puppetry, storytelling and family theater.


CITH-1“I am very excited about the puppet fish in Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat. The fish is so nervous having a cat in the house – understandably. He is constantly trying to be the voice of reason on that cold, cold, wet day,” says Schaeffer.



Mariachi-Girl-2“In Mariachi Girl, the protagonist has a Mexican Barbie and a blonde Barbie, which she uses to talk and argue back & forth. They extend her exploration of who she is and who she can be. The emotional impact of her personal struggle is powerfully portrayed through the interplay between the two dolls,” says Flatt.



Beauty and The Beast“I am looking forward to creating all new puppets for Beauty and the Beast. A family theater is the most important because you are enriching the young mind with beautiful ideas like ‘true beauty comes from within’. When it is done right, you’ve blessed your community for years to come. I do think DCT is succeeding in doing that, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” says Burks.


And don’t forget, Boats is a special storytelling and puppetry engagement with only three public shows! Click here for a sneak peek.

Stage Managing Education

How is directing traffic similar to stage managing? Terry Feagin, who has worked at DCT (from the very beginning!) for nearly 30 years, tells us how her current role as Education Coordinator is similar to when she used to stage manage DCT shows!

Q: How did you get started in theater? Did you act when you were a child?

A: I worked backstage on a couple of shows in high school, but I really became involved in theater in college. I spent most of my free time in the theater and backstage – I was never interested in being onstage. My only acting role was in the 4th grade in a play about Harriet Tubman!

Q: You are one of the DCT staff members who has been here from the very beginning! Tell us about some of your favorite memories over the years.

A: When DCT first started, the staff was much smaller, so everyone did a little bit of everything. You might be taking ticket reservations over the phone and sewing a costume at the same time! All of the staff had their offices in one big room, and everyone pitched in to help with whatever needed to be done. I met my future husband, Hugh Feagin, when he was cast as an actor in some plays I was stage managing – that’s definitely one of my favorite experiences at DCT!

Q: You used to stage manage DCT shows. How is stage managing similar or different than helping coordinate the Education classes?

A: Both jobs require a lot of organization, and there is a lot of variety in both positions. Every day is different – they are actually more similar than you might expect. We used to say stage managing was a lot like directing traffic – and now I do direct traffic…in the carpool line!

Q: Describe a typical day in your current role as Education Coordinator, particularly while classes are going on.

A: My day is usually a combination of working in the office and being ‘on deck’ while classes are going on. In the office, I might be processing enrollments, answering questions over the phone, creating rosters for classes. When it’s time for class, I make sure the classrooms are ready, sign-in the students as they arrive, answer questions from parens, and then I’m out in the parking lot for carpool.

Q: Describe how carpool works.

A: I help the parents line up in the carpool line and make sure each driver is on the list given to us at the start of class. I give a list of the students in order to Nancy Schaeffer, our Education Director. Nancy has a great system for lining up the students in the correct order, and the teachers then help the students into their cars. It’s really amazing how quickly the line will go, and it’s a very safe way to get everyone into the correct car.

Q: You manage the carpool line throughout the year in all different types of weather. Tell us about how you “keep your cool” even during the worst weather conditions, like the brutual Texas summer heat?

A: I drink lots of water and always wear my sun hat and sunscreen. If it’s really hot, I bring a frozen wet bandana in my lunchbox cooler and wrap that around my neck – that’s my secret weapon! It’s really not so bad most days, and I really enjoy being outside a little bit every day.

Q: What is your favorite part about working for DCT and in the Education department?

A: I get to work with wonderful friends and co-workers and be a part of a tremendous organization that adds so much to our community. It has been very rewarding to see the organization grow and expand over the years, and to get to be a part of that growth. I love seeing our students enjoying their classes and having fun learning about theater.

Q: What is it like watching students reunite with their proud parents & loved ones (ready with flowers, applause, smiles & big hugs) after a class show performance?

A: Class performance days are very hectic, but they are a lot of fun. It’s very rewarding to see how happy and proud the students are after their shows, and the parents can really appreciate the hard work and effort the students have put in to create something as a group that is bigger than themselves.

Literacy Takes Center Stage at DCT

Like Former First Lady Barbara Bush, we at Dallas Children’s Theater (DCT) have a passion for literacy. After all, our mission is to bring books from the page to the stage! We are proud of the very unique partnership that exists between DCT and the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. Each year, school children receive a chance to participate in an essay contest inspired by a DCT show. This year’s school was J. Erik Jonsson Community School; and the show…Pinkalicious The Musical. Here’s how it worked:

Students in grades 3, 4 and 5 read the book Pinkalicious and were challenged with a question from Mrs. Bush: “Before Pinkalicious turned pink from eating too many pink cupcakes, she never thought there would be consequences for too much of a good thing. Think about a time when you did not make mindful choices. What did you do? What consequences did you face? Write a short story about the experience.”

After submitting their stories, the students then came to DCT to see the show and experience first hand how DCT brings literature to life. For some of these students, it was the first time they’ve ever seen a play. Their excitement is palpable! And when they’ve studied the book in advance, they’re even more elated to see the characters they know walking and talking right before their eyes. 

Best of all, we know this experience is a catalyst for opening up their own creativity. When we see children take the leap from the classroom, to a theatrical event, to believing in the creative power of their own mind, we are proud to have had such an important role in their discovering that education leads to imagination and it is FUN! That’s a lesson they’ll never forget. Books and theater are indeed powerful tools for showing young people how they can achieve better lives.

After the show, Barbara Bush’s grandson, George P. Bush and his wife Amanda, came up to the stage to announce the winners chosen by Mrs. Bush and present them with the Barbara Bush Magic of Reading Award. All in all, it was a great celebration of reading, writing, live theater and accomplishment!

Mrs. Bush said, “I love reading all the wonderful essays that the children submit!” We can see why. Take a minute of your day to read these smart and delightfully funny winning entries, complete with adorable illustrations!

  • 3rd Grade – Leo Ontiveros and his lesson to Listen to Your Mom
  • 4th Grade – Thomas Orta and his story My Goofy Hair Do
  • 5th Grade – Priscilla Cabrera and her account of The Time I Fainted

Bank of Texas: Investing in Arts Education

Regardless of your age, there is a great likelihood that you can recall the first time you attended a play. The memory is likely all the more vivid if it took place when you were a child. You were transported to another world, mesmerized by the actors, the story and the stage, by a genre that is far more personal and human than a motion picture could ever be.

Research has spoken to the power the arts possess to help children lead more productive and impactful lives. The Dallas Children’s Theater has long believed in bringing the power of the arts to the children of Dallas, and is about to reach its 28th year of providing this vital service to our children. Bank of Texas is proud of their efforts as they bring those powerful, vivid moments and memories to the young people in our community through theatrical productions, classes and special events.

Bank of Texas was especially pleased to sponsor the Dallas Children’s Theater’s recent special event featuring one of the leading voices in the research devoted to the impact of the arts on children, Dr. James Catterall. Dr. Catterall’s research is well-respected and widely used in the arts community by organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, VH1 Save the Music, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, Americans for the Arts, National Arts Council, and countless others.

Dallas Children’s Theater and other arts groups in the community who devote time and attention to children and families are certainly worthy of our time and investment because their efforts are clearly enriching our citizens of today and tomorrow. I hope all of you will consider learning more about them.

To learn more about Dallas Children’s Theater’s impact, watch this video.

Guest Blogger,

George Townsend

Senior Portfolio Manager, Bank of Texas

DCT Board Member Impacted by “Shared Stories”

During a rehearsal in April 2012, DCT & 6th Floor Museum staff took notes and discussed their collaboration “Shared Stories”.

If you were alive on November 22, 1963, you can probably remember where you were when you heard the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

I was in elementary school, and I clearly recall my mother picking my brothers and me up early and telling us the news. Watching the funeral procession on television is another memory I have; imperfect but indelible.

Now that I have teenagers, I have tried to impress them with the solemnity, the importance and the sheer horror of that time. Usually after a few short minutes, their eyes glaze over and I know I have lost their attention. They are probably thinking, “What does this have to do with me?”

Resident playwright Linda Daugherty has written Shared Stories, and with Dallas Children’s Theater joined forces with the Sixth Floor Museum to answer just that question.

Their 20-minute museum theater piece uses a couple of young actors combined with archival videotaped testimony to recount the sentiment of those that experienced firsthand that fateful day. DCT Director Nancy Schaeffer beautifully guides the two young actors, who do a marvelous job bringing immediacy to the events surrounding the death of the President.

DCT Board Member Georgiana Shelokov (right) posed with the show’s director, DCT Education Director Nancy Schaeffer (left) at the 2011 Cabaret Gala. Photo by Dana Driensky

I was privileged enough to see the first (and so far only) public showing of this project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and I truly wish it could be shown in every school around the country. Hopefully, additional funding will be forthcoming to allow further implementation of this program here in Dallas and possibly further afield.

I was so impressed by how the combination of history, drama, film clips and location added up to this truly unique experience. The value of this type of learning experience to share history across generations is immeasurable.

As a board member, I am so proud of how DCT uses its resources to educate and enlighten. It demonstrates the versatility and talent of the wonderful DCT staff beyond their amazing literary performances; works that oftentimes the average theatergoer is not aware of.

Outstanding on the stage and invaluable in the community…We are so lucky to live in a city with a resource like the Dallas Children’s Theater!

Georgiana Shelokov

VP of Education, DCT Board of Trustees

Diary of the (Cue)test Show

“They do things big at DCT, but this might be their biggest show yet.” –Dallas Observer

The multi-level set of DCT’s larger-than-life show Diary of a Worm, a Spider & a Fly magnifies the insect world into a fascinating place: It’s in the sky, It’s underground, It’s in a treehouse. There are over-sized juiceboxes, bottle caps, and a bug’s arch nemesis: the vacuum cleaner.

Ant uses his karate skills to try to fend off the dreaded vacuum cleaner. Photo by Karen Almond

While the audience watches all of the action happening onstage in the show, the backstage crew keeps busy with elaborate transitions, called cues.

Cues are signals used to prompt another event in a performance, such as an actor’s speech or entrance, a change in lighting, a sound effect or a video effect.

Did you know there are approximately 450 cues in the show, including 200 light cues, 120 audio cues and 100 video cues? Who knew the insect world could be so complex!

Diary of a Worm, a Spider & a Fly continues at DCT through Sunday, June 3rd! To purchase tickets for one of the upcoming show times, call the Box Office at 214-740-0051, or visit our website.

“Diary” Buzz

It’s the coolest ever rock-n-roll romp in a bug’s world! DCT’s current show Diary of a Worm, a Spider & a Fly is creating all kinds of buzz!

Check out the reviews for yourself:

Dallas Morning News: “The raucous, joyous show rapping spiritedly at Dallas Children’s Theater offers an intoxicating mix of educational and entertaining fare.”

Dallas Observer: “They do things big at DCT, but this may be their biggest show yet.”

TheaterJones: “Not only is the production quality consistently high, but you get to watch the young audience members as they respond to the actors with unfettered honesty.”

Diary of a Worm, a Spider & a Fly continues at DCT through Sunday, June 3rd. Call the Box Office at 214-740-0051, or visit our website to purchase tickets to one of the upcoming show times!

Introducing DCT’s 2012-2013 Season…

Have you updated your passport recently?

Get ready to be transported to another dimension! To a town called Pigsylvania! To a world where everything turns pink! And many other exciting locales!

DCT’s highly anticipated line up of shows for the 2012-2013 season features an exciting variety of imaginative adventures and classic tales.

Find out what our DCT Academy students can’t wait to see!

Also, visit our website for more information on each of the shows in the 2012-2013 season, as well as how to take advantage of DCT’s affordable season ticket packages, which are on sale now!

AnchorKids at DCT

Are you more Worm, Spider or Fly? Does your mother let you roll around in the dirt? Who is your favorite Beatle? (or beetle?)

These are just a few of the burning questions that DCT’s Anchor Kids, Maxwell and Zachary, asked the audience on Friday, May 4th during the Opening Night celebration for the show Diary of a Worm, a Spider & a Fly.

Check out DCT’s young Woodward & Bernstein in action!

One Actor, Six Characters

Grampa Spider is a world traveler. Mrs. Fly’s 327 children drive her crazy. Mrs. Spider is from Fargo, North Dakota. Aunt Rita, a fly, is a little bit Southern. Father Worm gives his son a timeout. And, the DJ, a junebug, keeps the catchy music going.

Six very different characters…all played by one actor!

The multi-talented actor B.J. Cleveland gives us an overview of each character in the insect world that he plays in DCT’s latest show Diary of a Worm, a Spider & a Fly.

Not only does Cleveland have many roles in the show, he actually changes costumes three times in one song to play three different characters!

Check out all of the characters and many more fun songs and surprises in Diary of a Worm, a Spider & a Fly, which is running at Dallas Children’s Theater through Sunday, June 3, 2012.

For more information on show times and ticket availability, visit our website at http://www.dct.org, or call the Box Office at 214-740-0051.