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Kids Theater Comes Home -

Company offers quality drama on video

By Tom Howard



A search for quality children's theater landed Lizbeth Pratt into the home video business. Globalstage, her new venture, is exploring a unique niche in family entertainment by bringing world-class children's theater home via videotape.

Pratt, a former Billings resident now living in San Francisco, came up with the idea for Globalstage while searching for family entertainment that's more challenging than the usual fare in video stores and television.

"I thought that living in San Francisco you could find really good children's theater," she said. "But I learned that you have to travel even if you live here."

Since top-notch children's theater is so hard to come by, Pratt thought it made sense to bring the plays to the audience via videotape.

Pratt's search led her to Louisville, Ky., home of Stage One, recognized as one of the nation's best productions for children's theater. She was so impressed with the quality of Stage One's production of "Frankenstein" and "Pinocchio" that she signed a contract and started to work on filming.

"Frankenstein" and "Pinocchio" are the first two installments in Globalstage's six-play series. A crew form the British Broadcasting Corp. is filming the performances.

Stage productions from England, Scotland, Belgium and The Netherlands are also included in Globalstage's 1998 subscription series.

Globalstage kicked off a nationwide marketing effort in December with advertisements in The New Yorker, The New York Times and newspapers. That's not to imply that Globalstage is targeting only an affluent audience, Pratt said.

"Any kid would love to see this," she said. "It breaches a big gap. Most kids don't get a chance to go to really good theater, and this gives them the chance to see it."

Pratt, an investment trader by profession, grew up on a ranch near Glasgow. "The idea appealed to me because I grew up in an isolated area myself," she said.

Pratt collaborated with Elizabeth McNamer, a professor of religious studies at Rocky Mountain College, to help put the performances into perspective for young viewers.

In an introduction to "Frakenstein," McNamer explains how author Mary Shelley went about writing the world’s first science-fiction novel in 1816. Pratt’s 11-year-old son, Preston Blakeley, also appears in the introduction and in a post-performance clip in which they learn about and explain some of the special effects used on stage.

Shelley was at the forefront of the romantic movement in literature, and many considered her a pioneer because, in her day, women were widely considered to be incapable of writing and other intellectual pursuits, McNamer said.

In Shelley’s time, scientists had just recently discovered electricity, and they were busy trying to harness it for useful purposes. People were also fascinated with the idea of creating artificial life, much like we are today with the recent announcement that a sheep had been cloned.

The thought of creating artificial life also raises serious moral questions, such as whether scientists should be held responsible for what they create, McNamer said.

The videotape is accompanied by a brief brochure, written by McNamer, in which viewers are asked to ponder some of the moral themes of "Frankenstein."

"We want the viewers to think critically," McNamer said.

Nick DiMartino, an author and playwright, created the "Frankenstein" stage play specifically with children in mind. Daniel Herring is the director.

The performance, filmed before a live audience, includes some sophisticated special effects that generate a strong reactions [sic] from the audience. In one scene, an audible gasp erupts from the audience when Dr. Frankenstein shoots the monster that he has created.

Globalstage’s "Frankenstein" was released in mid-December. Next up is a musical version of Pinocchio, also produced by Stage One of Louisville. The second tape will be distributed in March. Pratt says the new company will make a profit if 15,000 subscriptions are sold.

Billings Gazette, 2/2/98

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