NC theater group spreads friendliness through children’s shows

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Watched by thousands of cheering families in Charlotte, The Invisible Boy was a reminder that a simple act of kindness can create meaningful friendships.

The friendliness project started small. But most kindnesses do.

“It was 2016 and I was in a board meeting,” said Peter Flur, a retired engineer who has served on the board of directors of the Children’s Theater of Charlotte for 12 years. “Adam (Burke, the Artistic Director) stands up and introduces this idea. He talks about the current state of our discourse and how the dialogue is really charged. They all beat each other up. There is no politeness. ”

Hall continued, “Adam says Linda (Reynolds, the former executive director) came into my office with a list of the top 10 books on kindness for children. And an idea came up. People can get pity. You can have empathy. But you can’t get friendliness. Friendliness is a word of action. You have to do something to be kind. ”

Burke and Reynolds wanted to turn some of those books about kindness into plays.

“It stuck in my head,” said Hall. “And I came home that afternoon and said to my wife, ‘We have to do that.”

Three days later, Dorlisa and Peter Flur were in Reynolds’ office discussing their vision and Burke’s statement: “Kindness is a verb; no noun. “You’ve pledged to fund an initiative that focuses on friendliness.

On this day the friendliness project was born. It was launched in 2017 and has since reached over 20,000 people. And that’s just the number the Children’s Theater of Charlotte can measure in terms of ticket sales. There is no way of knowing how many people were affected by the ripple effect. Friendliness tends to generate more friendliness.

So far, four books have come to life on stage. A fifth is under development and will be part of the 2023-24 season. The four produced so far are:

In all four theatrical performances, an act of kindness changes someone.

Not all 10 books are transferable to the stage, Burke said. “But we are constantly looking for thematically suitable books for the stage – and those that we would call Kindness Project books.”

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“Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba” is the latest production part of The Kindness Project. The play about a boy who is fleeing Nazi Germany shows the audience how many forms friendliness can take and that it requires action. Alex Aguilar

The Children’s Theater of Charlotte is one of the few children’s theaters nationwide with the funds to commission new works, Burke said. And everyone benefits.

“Playwrights are the creative driving force of the field,” said Burke. “And if someone doesn’t support them and gives them the opportunity to create new works, we end up playing the same pieces over and over again.”

Friendliness spreads

Word of the Kindness Project began to spread itself like an act of kindness.

“One of our sandbox families had seen some Children’s Theater productions and thought it would be … beneficial to our families,” said Mara Campolungo, co-founder and CEO of The Sandbox. Charlotte, a nonprofit, supports families whose child has cancer or another life-changing disease.

About 40 families from the group – almost 175 people in total – attended a special zoom demonstration of “The Invisible Boy” this May. “The children and parents were absolutely delighted,” said Campolungo. “If we all want to make a difference in the world, this is a must.”

Other theaters have expressed interest in their own version of The Kindness Project, Burke said. And some of the world premieres staged by the Children’s Theater of Charlotte are produced elsewhere. For example, the Birmingham Children’s Theater will be staging “The Invisible Boy” next season.

Additionally, the theater encouraged people to share their own stories of kindness on social media using #CTCKindnessProject and in turn shares them on its website.

Personal impact

The Kindness Project had big and small impacts.

“It reminds you to think differently every day,” said Flur. “When you’re on the go, leave someone in front of you.”

“The Kindness Project has also helped to give direction to children’s theater,” said Flur. “In everything it does, friendliness is woven into the fabric of children’s theater. And even some of the shows that are technically not part of the Kindness Project really adopted this model, emphasizing the idea that kindness is important. ”

The circle of friendliness came full circle for the Flur family.

Flurs daughter Arella, now 20, grew up with children’s theater productions and worked there. By the time she reached middle school, she was working on adult productions centered around Charlotte.

“Adam brought (playwright) Gloria Bond Clunie to adapt Matt de la Pena’s ‘Market Street’ for the stage,” recalls Peter Flur. “I went to children’s theater the fall of Arella’s junior year in high school to see a workshop. She knew she wanted to study theater in college – Michigan, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, or one of the conservatories. She didn’t know which way to go. And Gloria introduces herself and says she has been with Northwestern for 20 years. I said, ‘Would you mind spending five minutes with my daughter?’ “Gloria did – and told them to call if they ever wanted to tour the Chicago campus.

They did.

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Peter Flur, a lifetime honorary member of the Children’s Theater of Charlotte Board, and his wife Dorlisa helped fund The Kindness Project. Courtesy of Dorlisa and Peter Flur

Hall assumed they had spent 20 minutes with Clunie by the time the family reached campus. “But no,” he said. “She spends the whole day with us. Everywhere we go she stops everyone and says, ‘Sorry. This is an aspiring student. Can you tell her why she should come to Northwestern? ‘”

“You were working on the 30th anniversary performance for the School of Communications, which houses the theater department. Stephen Colbert, Julia Louis-Dreyfus – all these well-known Northwest graduates – will be at this gala. And the rehearsal was the day we were there. They set up this entire Broadway stage and the students rehearse. And they took the time to be interested in us. ”

“When it’s time to go, we’ll pack our bags, go down the stairs and Arella will be in tears,” said Hall. “She says, ‘This is it. I have to be here. ‘ We had been to 10 schools and she hadn’t had this reaction. It was all Gloria. It all comes back to their friendliness. ”

Arella Flur is now in her junior year with Northwestern. Northwestern also has a youth theater company that recently completed its production of Last Stop on Market Street. Clunie was the director.

“Gloria texted me the Playbill and said she wanted me to know how this show continues to affect people,” said Flur.

Kindness goes on

Crystal Hubbard’s award-winning book, Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream, will be held in workshops in 2022 and premiered at the Children’s Theater of Charlotte in the 2023-24 season.

The story revolves around Marcenia Lyle Stone (1921-96), a black girl who grew up on Toni Stone, the first woman to play for an all-male professional baseball team.

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Adam Burke, Artistic Director of the Children’s Theater of Charlotte, has announced “Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream” as the next installment in The Kindness Project. Alex Aguilar

Friendliness is evident in several places in the piece. “A boy she plays with holds out a hand to tell her how hard she works and how much she deserves to be on the team,” said Burke. “And a baseball scout brings her a pair of cleats. Studs are a requirement and she doesn’t have a pair. ”

“A simple act of kindness,” said Flur, “can change a person’s life.”

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