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.

Theater + Math = Robyn Flatt

DSCF2023Sometimes it is easy for us to think that math and theater are two academic disciplines that have nothing to do with each other. But this is not the case, especially at DCT!

Have you ever noticed the name listed above the double doors of DCT’s 390-seat theater inside the Rosewood Center For Family Arts? DCT Executive Artistic Director & Co-Founder Robyn Flatt named the Paul and Kitty Baker Theater after her two parents. Her father Paul Baker was a renowned theater expert, and her mother Kitty Baker is a mathematician. Their incredible legacies live on in Robyn and in the continued success of Dallas Children’s Theater, which is approaching its 30th season of inspiring kids and families through the power of live theater.

As DCT’s current show A Wrinkle In Time is being performed on the Baker Theater stage, Robyn reflects on her upbringing – how the powerful combination of math and theater influenced her life path and why emphasizing strong female heroines like Meg Murry of A Wrinkle In Time is an important aspect of DCT’s mission.

DCT Executive Artistic Director Robyn Flatt, with her sisters Retta & Sally and their mother Kitty Baker.

DCT Executive Artistic Director Robyn Flatt with her sisters Retta & Sally and their mother Kitty Baker.

Q: Your mother is a mathematician, and your father was a renowned theater expert. Tell us how this background in math and the arts affected your upbringing and your life path.

A: Of course, by growing up on the Baylor University campus where our mother taught math and our father was director of the Baylor University’s Drama department and Baylor Theater, higher education was a way of life. The arts were considered by both of our parents to be at the center of developing an engaged, productive individual. Mother, with the help of a neighbor musician friend, started a children’s theater for my sister Retta and me when I was in third grade, and my father agreed to host it at the Baylor Theater. Henceforth, theater was always a dominant part of my life. All of us were encouraged to apply our talents and contribute to our communities, and these concepts have passed along to the next two generations of girls in our family, or so it seems at this time.

Robyn's parents Kitty & Paul Baker both taught at Baylor University when she was growing up with her two sisters.

Robyn’s parents, Kitty & Paul Baker, both taught at Baylor University when she was growing up with her two sisters.

Q: It’s pretty obvious you inherited your father’s theatrical passion and talent. Did you inherit your mother’s knack for numbers, too?

A: Though I’m not always the fastest at adding up a group of numbers, I have an excellent sense of number patterns and relationships that is somehow instinctive. I figured out quickly in high school how to stretch my $2.50/week allowance to ultimately save enough to purchase fabric and then make a blouse or skirt. I oversaw budgets at the Dallas Theater Center during the years I ran their Theater in the Parks program and managed them very well. Numbers for me are symbols. I suppose I gleaned that from our mother who often took numbers and translated them into patterns for quilts and weaving projects. She always told us that numbers and art are really just two sides of the same coin. Mother, now 100 years old, had an amazingly clear grasp of the interrelatedness of math, science and the arts from the education she received at Randolph Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia.

In DCT's "A Wrinkle In Time", iconic heroine Meg Murry embarks on a dangerous mission across space & time to rescue her father from another planet. Photo by Karen Almond.

In DCT’s “A Wrinkle In Time,” iconic heroine Meg Murry embarks on a dangerous mission across space and time to rescue her father from another planet. Photo by Karen Almond.

Q: A Wrinkle In Time is arguably the first sci-fi novel to appeal to young girls and feature a strong female heroine. Why do you think it is important for girls in particular to see this show?

A: Girls need as many strong female role models as possible. I was fortunate that my mother, born in 1912, forged ahead into math at a time when very few women sought advanced degrees. She was one of very few female students in her graduate math classes at the University of Chicago. Mother was only three months away from completing a doctorate in math when the Great Depression of the 1930’s made it financially impossible for her to continue. In spite of that, she was a highly respected math teacher until she retired around 1980. My mother was my own in-house role model. There was never a question for me about whether, as a girl, I could pursue whatever I wanted to.

Q: Throughout the years, DCT has produced many shows with strong female leads. Why do you think doing these kinds of shows are important to the mission of DCT?

A: Today’s world still presents many hurdles for women. Therefore, I feel it is very important for Dallas Children’s Theater to help empower young girls by bringing courageous female role models to the stage and thus encourage them to engage in the battle to follow their own, individual dreams. The experience of theater is a powerful one. Following DCT’s performances, many of these young girls feel empowered to face their own challenges, seek ways to overcome their own difficulties and step forward to shape their own dynamic futures. When this happens, we say, “Mission Accomplished.”

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.

An Attitude of Gratitude at DCT

The amazing students from Lone Star Circus did flips and tricks in the lobby during Opening Night of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”.

It’s the time of year to count your blessings. As the holidays and a brand new year approach, we have so much to appreciate, thanks to an abundance of devoted friends and DCT family.

We are so very thankful for the many individuals, foundations and companies that support DCT. They understand that in order to present great shows and offer classes, we have to raise additional funds in the form of sponsorships and donations.

The Michaels coloring station has become a favorite activity among our young patrons during this season’s Opening Night performances!

In fact, 40% of our budget relies on support similar to what we got this year from Texas Instruments Foundation, Texas Instruments, Michaels Stores, Target, TACA, the King, Rosewood, Hersh and Shubert Foundations, NGP Energy Capital Management, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas and Jones Day, to name a few. Not to be overshadowed are the donations of $25, $50, $100, $250 and $1000, which also make a huge difference. Collectively, these dollars help sustain DCT and enable us to continue to bring the magic of live theater to children and families across the metroplex and beyond.

On Opening Night of “Pinkalicious The Musical”, the audience was treated to delicious strawberry cupcakes, courtesy of our friends at Sprinkles!

Opening Night Parties, a new tradition that began last season, have grown even stronger in 2012, thanks to the help of our partners. Each show’s first Friday evening performance would not be the same without Wonderful Weekend Sponsors and donations from local business friends. Michaels Stores, Sprinkles, Purple Cow Restaurant, Tiff’s Treats, Nancy Dee’s Lil Bits Mini Donuts, and Whitley Penn all helped make pre-show activities and intermission something really special this year.

Audiences waited in anticipation for a Target-sponsored performance at DCT!

And then there are friends, like DCT Trustee Karen Travis, who along with intern Maliska Haba, truly took the (cup) cake when they decked out the facility with pinkatastic décor for this season’s opening show, Pinkalicious The Musical, DCT’s most pinkarrific show ever!

Photo by Karen Almond
Larry Hagman on the set of “Pinkalicious The Musical” with the youth ensemble members playing birds, bees and butterflies. In the spur of the moment he decided to strike a pose with them!

Finally, every now and then, you are fortunate to encounter a light so bright that it leaves a lifetime impression on you. That happened to DCT when Larry Hagman graced our doorway one October Sunday. Watching him talk to the children about the importance of the arts in his life and how he wanted to give money so that all children could get that benefit really touched us all. Having no idea that it would be the last time we would ever talk to him about a subject he was so clearly passionate about, we all left that day looking forward to his promised return.

Photo by Karen Almond
Shown here, left to right: Robyn Flatt (DCT Executive Artistic Director), Jacob Segoviano (DCT Academy Student), Larry Hagman, Kendyl Mull (DCT Academy Student)

Unfortunately, we’ll not physically get to host Mr. Hagman again at DCT, but the creation of the Larry Hagman Scholarship for the Performing Arts will live on as a tribute to his generosity and passion for the arts. Thank you, Larry. Warmest Wishes, Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays to all! We’re halfway through the season of shows and truly looking forward to ringing in 2013 with Goodnight Moon, A Wrinkle in Time, Boats, Teen Brain: The Musical, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, Rumpelstiltskin, The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley and so much more! See you in the New Year!