The humor and drama surrounding the relativistic enormity of childhood awaits to be celebrated and rediscovered at the Gamm Theater, as cast and crew gear up for their eight-show run of “Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt” beginning on Thursday, Oct. 10.
The show – based on the popular children’s books “Judy Moody” by Megan McDonald – is part of the Gamm’s educational series, which is in its third year of delivering high-quality theater intended for younger audiences.
The show centers on the titular Judy Moody and her little brother, Stink, who take a family vacation to Ocracoke Island – a land rife with legendary tales of pirates and buried treasure – which they hope will be the envy of their friends when it comes time to put together a collage of their summer vacation experiences at the beginning of the new school year.
“It’s kind of a life or death thing,” Olivia Winters, portraying Judy Moody, explained of the show’s plot, earning a loud burst of laughter from her cast mates gathered for a rehearsal on Monday night at the Gamm.
While that may sound a bit extreme, Winters related back to how inordinately huge certain types of experiences, like the first day back at school, can be for a child like Judy or Stink.
“This is my last chance to have something exciting to tell everyone about when I go back to school,” she said.
Tyra Wilson, who plays the Mom, Park Range and Mr. Todd in the production, was excited to be participating in a show intended for younger audiences.
“I love theater for young audiences because you get to just be ‘on’ 100 percent of the time,” she said. “For kids, it’s just bright and there’s an energy behind it where you have to start at 100 and end at 100 because kids will not pay attention unless you do that.”
“I think it’s also really rewarding to play a child,” added Kelly Robertson, portraying Tall Boy, Kid 3 and the Docent. “It’s very freeing and comfortable. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a big sister and Stink reminds me so much of my little brother. It brings back feelings of being in third grade like Judy and the other kids are.”
Robertson added that the overall tone of the show is one in which childhood is ultimately celebrated, which she hopes will rub off on audience members young and old alike.
“Because it’s so fun to do those things and play those things, it will be even more fun to share that with kids and hopefully tell them that they can always be kids,” she said. “I want everyone to remember themselves as a kid. Hopefully the kids watching will be able to get that ahead of time and the adults who watch will be like, ‘Oh yeah. I remember what it was like to have this life or death moment,’ which is actually relatively small.”
For Alexis Ingram, playing Smart Girl and Kid 2, the Gamm’s educational series provides a priceless opportunity for inspiring the next generation of theater lovers.
“To me, what I love about these educational programs is the idea of accessibility,” she said. “The fact that a lot of the schools in Rhode Island – public schools especially – don’t have theater programs, don’t have after school theater activities. They can come here and be exposed to what theater is in a really friendly, positive and exciting way.”
Director Dave Rabinow points out that such exposure doesn’t have to come by sacrificing the quality of the product either. At the end of the rehearsal on Monday night, Rabinow and the cast were going over notes for improvement that included the most minute details – from the brightness of lights to music cue timing and which way to hold a prop so the audience can best see it.
“A kid that comes to this side in the third grade and sees this company doing this show will not be surprised when they go to the other side in sixth or seventh grade and see hopefully some of these artists and the Gamm company working on stuff that’s part of the canon,” he said. “I think this fits in nicely with what the Gamm is trying to do and what Susie [Schutt, educational outreach director] is trying to do and what we’re all trying to do, which is expose human beings to quality theater.”
And while the show is certainly geared towards children with lots of noise, audience participation and high-energy zaniness, the cast and crew are sure that adult audience members will find something special in the production as well.
“It’s like Pixar on stage – everyone gets something out of this,” said Jessica Corsentino, one of the Gamm’s teaching artists who also wears the stage manager, props coordinator, costume designer and set designer hats for the show as well.
“It’s a real physical, lovely, funny show,” added Wilson. “We get to have fun with each other making new jokes appear out of nowhere that are for the adults.”
Although it didn’t start out to be a female-only show, Rabinow explained that as auditions went on, the strongest talents in the room all emerged to be women. As a result, the show’s 16 roles are to be portrayed by seven ladies. It’s a development that Rabinow, who has a daughter, sees as particular powerful.
“I would really want to bring her to someplace where she could see that women artists could play literally anything – and in this show they play literally everything, from pirates to a daughter, to a son, to a mom and a dad, to moments of realism with Judy and Smart Girl to moments that are more outlandish with a pirate and a parent,” he said. “That’s so exciting being able to see this cast of women not just be limited to what might be more traditional female casting choices.”
In other ways, members of the cast feel that Judy Moody herself is a character that subverts typical stereotypes of what a little girl “should” be, which they hope to be especially empowering for the young girls that come to watch the show, and for the adults as well.
“This play could easily be about a little girl who is boisterous and stubborn and free-spirited and moody – the play could so easily be about trying to contain that or figure out how to get over her moods, but it’s not. It’s like, this is who she is,” said Winters. “Having a character that is not an archetype of what a little girl is supposed to be, I feel kind of gives us – as people who all were little girls – the realization that there’s no ‘way’ that it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to look like anything.”
“Women and girls can be loud and can have big, maybe crazy, dreams and aspirations. Judy Moody, for example, she wants to be a doctor, which is amazing. She runs toward that goal with a reckless freedom and abandonment,” adds Cassidy McCartan, portraying Scurvy Sam, Kid 1 and the Tour Guide. “I think maybe young people can also find something in that. People who are searching for their own aspirations, they can see someone passionate and maybe mirror that for themselves.”
The cast and crew are eager to begin performances, which kick off with the first of four, 10 a.m. matinee performances on Thursday, Oct. 10. These performances invite Rhode Island schools in for field trips to enjoy the show. Matinee performances are on Oct. 10, 11, 15 and 16 at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Oct. 14 (Columbus Day). Weekend performances are Saturday at 11 a.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., with the final show happening on site at the Lincoln School in Providence at 6 p.m.
Tickets are available for general admission during the weekend and Columbus Day shows – $15 for adults and $10 for kids – and can be purchased through the Gamm’s website or by going to https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/1012923.