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Vampire bunny bait for kids

Pinellas Park Elementary students get hooked on theater, thanks to the efforts of American Stage.

Published October 26, 2006


Diego Alameda, 9, kneeled at the back of the auditorium and craned his neck over his classmates' heads to get a better view.

At the front of the room, two American Stage actors dressed as a cat and a dog chased each other around the colorful set.

Diego's laughter mixed with the giggles coming from about 200 of his schoolmates at Pinellas Central Elementary.

"It was really funny. My favorite part was the girl who acted all crazy," Diego said.

The Friday performance of Bunnicula was part of the 20th annual American Stage School Tour, which tries to get elementary school children excited about the arts.

The 32-minute children's comedy is about a bunny rabbit who is believed to be a vampire by the other family pets and is based on an award-winning series by Deborah and James Howe.

"It continues to enforce that the imagination is good," said Julie Rowe, American Stage education director. "It gets them excited about reading the book."

Each year, the nonprofit professional theater takes live performances into local elementary schools to expose kids to theater.

The tour started Oct. 9 and ends on Dec. 31 at First Night St. Petersburg. By the end of the tour, more than 9,000 kids in 55 schools in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties will have seen the play. The theater rotates shows in Pinellas, with about half of the elementary schools receiving visits each year.

The theater also gives free performances at recreation centers, All Children's Hospital and the Youth Arts Corps. In previous years, kids have seen classic children's literature come to life in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

In Bunnicula, Mrs. Monroe (played by Megan Kirkpatrick) and her daughter Toby (Lani Toomer) find a rabbit at the movie theater, where they've gone to see Dracula. The Monroes take their new furry friend home and hilarity ensues when their other pets, Harold the dog (Stephen Malandro) and Chester the cat (Michael Titone), begin to suspect Bunnicula is a vampire when vegetables are drained of their juices.

Titone said the kids get so involved in the play that they begin to believe Harold and Chester are real. "They realize we're not a dog and a cat, but then, they don't," Titone said.

The four cast members erect and dismantle the set at each venue and host a question and answer session with the children after each performance. Teachers get a study guide that follows Sunshine State Standards to continue the experience once back in the classroom.

"A lot of our kids are experiencing theater for the first time," Rowe said. "In my dream world, we'd play every school, every year."

To see the play

American Stage is hosting a free performance of Bunnicula at the St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading, 10 a.m. Saturday at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, 140 Seventh Ave. S. Also, Bunnicula will be presented at American Stage, 211 Third Street S, St. Petersburg, at 10 a.m. Nov. 11 and Nov. 18. Tickets are $7; call 823-7529.

[Last modified October 25, 2006, 22:53:00]

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