Live theater encourages kids to eat healthy.
CARIBOU — Kids are told to eat nutritious foods from a young age, but often neglect that advice and gravitate to sweeter, saltier alternatives. The goal of Foodplay, a national, award-winning production, is to demonstrate the benefits of natural, healthy foods while entertaining and involving the audience.
Aroostook Republican Photo/Chris Bouchard
Janey (Felicia Masias) and Coach (Keith Allen) demonstrate the importance of fresh food at the Caribou Performing Arts Center for “Foodplay,” an award-winning nationally touring production that promotes healthy eating.
The play stars two characters: “Coach,” and “Janey,” played by Keith Allen and Felicia Masias respectively. The message of the play unfolds as Janey’s unhealthy habits hold her back from joining the National Junior Juggling Team and Coach demonstrates the benefits of natural foods via upbeat performances and songs.
The play encourages children to look through the facade of multi-million dollar television ads and to realize that soda and junk food commercials often feature star athletes who could never consume the products they promote and realistically maintain their athletic lifestyle.
“It really gets to me,” Coach said to the audience, “how these soda companies are making millions of dollars getting you kids to drink soda when it’s so bad for you. Can you guess how many cans of soda the average kid drinks in a year?”
The young audience screamed out a plethora of answers in unison.
“600 cans!” Coach said. “If one can costs one dollar, how much does 600 cans cost? That’s 600 dollars out of your pockets and directly into the pockets of the soda companies. Think about what you could have saved up for instead; you could have bought a mountain bike, went on a shopping spree, or bought an Xbox One with built-in Kinect.”
Caribou Food Service Director Louise Dean had no hesitation bringing Foodplay to the Performing Arts Center.
“We all felt this was in important message for the students,” said Dean. “School meals have had a bad rap for several years. We started feeding kindergarteners lunch and getting them to try things they’ve never had, like fruit parfaits.”
According to Dean, the play was half-funded by the school’s nutrition program as well as the elementary school, with a total cost of approximately $1,300.
Stage Manager Cheryl Thompson explains how the nationally touring play found its way to northern Maine.
“This past summer, our actors who play Janey and Coach came to Bangor for a school food service conference,” said Thompson, “and that is what sponsored the appearances. We’ve been here this whole week. Earlier this week, we were in New Gloucester, Norway, Kittery Point, Orono, and now Caribou.”
“We auditioned for Foodplay in New York City,” said Allen. “I was fresh out of college at the time. I did it for about a year and a half. Moved to the city for a year, and then I came back to the play. ”
“I was 23 when I started,” said Masias, “and we’ve been all around the country.”
“We’ve been as far southwest as San Diego,” said Allen, “as far northwest as Seattle, as far southeast as Florida. So we’ve hit all four corners.”
Masias says that, since she plays a 13-year old girl, she gets much of her inspiration from the kids at her performances.
“It’s a completely different show by the third month,” explains Masias, “just seeing how they react. The show changes based on the audience. If the audience is a little older, then we have to act more ‘cool.’”
“And sometimes if it’s a smaller crowd,” adds Allen, “we’d have to be a lot more intimate and conversational rather than a big production.”
“I think people outside of New York are so much more excited for the show,” said Masias. “There is so much theatre in New York and a lot of actors unfortunately look down on children’s theatre, but children’s theatre is probably the best because you’re reaching so many people at one time and they’re young, so they’re more susceptible to learning new things.
“It’s really cool,” said Allen. “You have no idea what to expect. I’ve had kids run up on the stage in the middle of a show and give me a hug. For the entire opening monologue, I’m usually feeling it out and figuring out what to expect from the audience. Certain kids are going to participate more than others, and the same goes with adults.”
“I think it’s cool that we’re able to come into schools and talk about eating healthy,” said Masias. “I love when we get fan mail from kids and they tell me they don’t drink soda anymore, or that they told their parents about reading a label before eating something.”