Penguin Playhouse: Building an audience

YSU senior Kaleigh Locketti and sophomore John Cruz are part of the university's new Penguin Playhouse.

Senior Kaleigh Locketti and sophomore John Cruz pose with the "trunk," which houses everything necessary to perform Penguin Playhouse's "Hansel and Gretel."

“It’s all got to fit in a trunk.”

That’s how Frank Castronovo, chair of YSU’s Department of Theater and Dance, describes a new initiative named Penguin Playhouse.

The fledgling theatrical program is an outgrowth of the Regional Engagement cornerstone of the YSU 2020 Strategic Plan, which calls for developing diverse art and cultural activities that enrich the campus and community.

Penguin Playhouse will offer live theater performances to a target age group of 5- to 9-year-olds. “The entire production can be put in a trunk, literally, and taken wherever it needs to go,” Castronovo said.

The first production, “Cinderella,” was performed last May. Currently, casting is underway for “Hansel and Gretel,” which is set to launch April 28.

“The place that our department has not had a presence has been in the area of children’s theater,” said Castronovo. “We’d like to run up our flag in that area. We like to train our students to do theater in multiple venues, so we look upon this not only as outreach, but as an enhancement to our training mission.”

Bryan DePoy, dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts, agrees.

“Penguin Playhouse is critical to the college because not only are we reaching out to the current constituency, but we are cultivating a younger audience-base,” he said. “We are not only about meeting the artistic and cultural needs of the community, but to a certain extent we hope to use this as an audience building tool, as well as a way to build general awareness for the role of arts and culture.”

Castronovo, who after 41-years of service to YSU is set to retire June 30, stresses that the program will be kept simple.

“We want to be able to do these productions at any venue,” he said. “The plays will be done in such a way that they can be set up in a classroom, Kilcawley Center or any community center in town.”

DePoy and Castronovo note that the program has already attracted the attention of some of the larger community organizations in the region.

“Right now what we want to do is build a general awareness that we are establishing this youth theater program, one that fills a niche within the community,” said DePoy. “This is as much about reaching out into the community as it is about bringing the community onto campus.”

“We’d like to have one, maybe two of these productions available at any given time,” Castronovo added. “Then, we can take them out and show young people that there is a lot of fun to be had in live theater.”

(This is the second in a series of stories on the implementation of the YSU 2020 Strategic Plan.)

Story by Robert Merz