BY MARY CANROBERT
This is a short article about a short play that was a long time coming.
The year was 1989. I was teaching a fifth-grade class at Longview Elementary School. I’d never taught in public school, nor had I been in charge of a group this age. I was merely waiting until a position was available at Grandview Middle School.
Turned out I loved those fifth-graders. They were funny, curious, and willing to do anything, try anything. They also weren’t familiar with nursery rhymes. Well, most of them weren’t. I was surprised.
I don’t recall what caused us to talk about nursery rhymes, but it saddened me to learn that they hadn’t enjoyed a basic means to learning language and developing reading skills. It’s the rhyming that’s so important.
So, being someone who loved to write and teach writing, I suggested that I model writing a play that incorporated several nursery rhymes, and I promised that if the project went well, we’d stage a production for some of the other classes at Longview. The children and I got to work. I wrote; they copied, throwing out suggestions from time to time.
Titled “Up and Down in Nursery Town,” the play, which focused on the calamitous and absurd antics of a bunch of mostly nonhuman characters, was a success.
From time to time during my years as an educator, I pulled “Up and Down in Nursery Town” from its file and let another group of kids pretend to be characters known for climbing, falling or running.
Fast forward to April 2019 and my discovery of the Newton-based Green Room Community Theatre’s Limitless Theatre for Exceptional Actors. Participants are teens and adults who have cognitive and/or physical disabilities. They attend acting classes at the Green Room.
Robby Fulton-Hofelich, an enormously talented musician, actor, writer, and teacher, who has a heart as big as Texas, is the Green Room’s education director. He and a number of adult volunteers make the Limitless Theatre a wonderful experience for both the participants and the folks who have the pleasure of watching the actors in action.
That’s what I thoroughly enjoyed doing on Oct. 23 at the Claremont Branch Library. And guess what the Limitless actors were performing? That’s right — “Up and Down in Nursery Town.”
Here’s what had happened: After listening to Robby and retired exceptional children’s educator and volunteer Debbie Bandy talk in April about the Limitless Theatre and the plays the group had already staged — one of which focused on classic children’s stories, I thought about that old fifth-grade play and how it had helped so many young people with their language and public-speaking skills. I emailed it to Robby who accomplished a little magic with it, elevating the children’s comedy from cute to exceptional.
He even added music, something I hadn’t thought to do. “Different ‘80s songs,” Robby called them. When Jack and Jill performed, for example, the song was Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” and when it was Hey Diddle Diddle’s turn to be acted out, Van Halen’s “Jump” was the tune that introduced the scene.
The Limitless players are making a name for themselves in the community, going on the road to perform season after season. With “Up and Down in Nursery Town,” the road has stopped at three area libraries and has one more to go. Mark your calendar for Nov. 6 and head to the Patrick Beaver Library for the 4:30 p.m. performance. You’ll see volunteers and Limitless actors performing together in a production that’s short but oh so imaginative. You’ll love the costumes, and you might be surprised by a bit of impromptu acting.
Admission to Limitless Theatre’s touring shows is free, but if you’d like to help the group financially or in some other way, don’t be shy. Call the Green Room’s main office, located at the Old Post Office Playhouse in Newton, at 828-464-6583.