This is not Shakespeare.
It’s not Rodgers and Hammerstein, though there is some ham involved.
Certainly not Tennessee Williams.
McMurry presents “Charlotte’s Web” twice this weekend, both shows at 11 am at Ryan Fine Arts Center on campus. The hour-long show, based on the 1952 story by EB White, debuted Tuesday as the launch show for this summer’s Young Audiences program at the main branch of the Abilene Public Library.
It’s the story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte.
The book is illustrated by Garth Williams, who was posthumously honored by the Children’s Art & Literacy Festival as a featured artist.
The children’s show expands the theater education for two McMurry students, Victoria Picon and Joe Caton, a sophomore.
Both agree this has been an enjoyable experience.
“We’re not trying to spoon feed kids Shakespeare,” Caton said. “We’re giving them a heartfelt story about friendship. Wilbur gets in a tough situation and Charlotte says, ‘I’m your friend de ella. I’ll help you out.'”
Picon compares Charlotte to a mother figure for Wilbur. Caton agreed.
“She is very motherly toward Wilbur,” he said.
They said theater head Neena McLain plans to take students to the Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden to see the sculptures of Wilbur and Charlotte.
Picon, a senior, has been in a number of McMurry shows and is no stranger to iconic roles. She was Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” She has been in “The Miracle Worker,” “Carousel” and “Godspell.”
“I’ve had my big parts and my small parts,” she said.
She is a theater and writing/English major who hopes to write and publish plays.
She was introduced to children’s theater during her studies. The story of “Little Red Riding Hood” was explored on its presentation over time, she said. For example, a Shakespearian version. And one more melodramatic.
“It was looking at the history of theater through ‘Little Red Riding Hood,'” she said. “That was a lot of fun.”
On another occasion, students presented a favorite story, told to her by her father. Hers was “The Honest Woodcutter.”
Both actors love the story of Charlotte and Wilbur. Caton, a Cooper High graduate, said it was a favorite when he was a kid. Picon said she watched various versions of the story.
Caton, who is also a theater major, has been in “The Miracle Worker” and “Carousel,” along with musical versions of “The Addams Family” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” all at McMurry.
Wilbur offers a chance for comedy, and there are plenty of gags in the show to keep kids interested and entertained, Picon said.
“Charlotte is like the straight man to everyone’s craziness,” she said. “I love how everyone adds their own spin to things.”
Well, that definitely would apply to Charlotte, a spider.
Picon said they have learned that comedy is fun – one character keeps mispronouncing words such as “tee-riffic” – but it cannot overshadow the story.
Caton says Charlotte grounds the other characters.
The costumes have been fun but don’t go overboard. Picon wears a spider on her head but otherwise does n’t have to move about with “spider arms” made from PVC pipe, as she first suggested.
Wilbur wears a pink button-down shirt.
At the library, McLain chose to do the performance off the stage to better integrate with their young audiences.
“Put us on the same level as the kids,” Caton said.
Added Picon, “Plus, I think it gave them closer access to us so they are absorbing the story.”
Besides, the set for the McMurry performances could not be moved.
The McMurry shows will be more theatrical, Picon said.
“But part of children’s theater and storytelling is interacting with the kids,” she said. “As Neena says, ‘Hamming it up.'”
Caton took issue with that.
“That’s a very sensitive subject,” he said.
Admission to the McMurry performances is $5 per person.
Greg Jaklewicz is editor of the Abilene Reporter-News and general columnist. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.