A group of barnyard bovines finds a typewriter and uses it to demand better treatment from their owner: This is the storyline of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, a children’s book by author Doreen Cronin and the season-closing production of Asheville Creative Arts. The show, which includes acting, live music, dance and puppetry, will open at The Magnetic Theatre on Friday, July 21.
“I think now is an important time to teach kids about activism because from early on, many young people are made to feel their lives and voices aren’t significant, and it’s important we counter that and acknowledge their ability to make change,” says Abby Felder, production director of the show. “The story told in Click, Clack, Moo is about precisely that,” she says. “And since we are illustrating this behavior in an abstracted way, we also want to highlight the many people and organizations in Asheville who are doing this in a concrete way, to show that change can take many forms.”
Each performance will be followed by talks about self-advocacy and the power of peaceful protest from local community activists who will tell the kids about their organizations and how they got involved with the causes they support. Activists include Daniele Martin from Yoga for Women of Color and DeWayne Bartonof Hood Huggers International, the Rev. Michael Carter from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Swannanoa Valley and Paul Howey of pet therapy program Fur Kidz Sake.
Anthony Napoletano, who takes on the role of the antagonist, Farmer Brown, also plays keyboard and is the show’s choreographer. “For the dance movements, I’ve been particularly interested in drawing from revolutionary gestures and symbology throughout history — everything from the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War to more current examples like Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March. That historical imagery influences what we are doing onstage,” he says. “I really enjoy working with ACA because they are pushing the boundaries of child theater and showing that just because it is for kids doesn’t mean it has to be dumbed down.”
The performance is directed by New York City-based visual artist, children’s author, playwright and puppeteer Nehprii Amenii. Amenii laid the foundations for the play while in New York but has now relocated to Asheville to bring her vision to the stage. “I connected with the ACA through Abby Felder,” says Amenii. “I met in Abby in New York while I was performing a one-woman show at a theater she was also working with.”
Amenii says that the challenges of collaborating from afar, and now traveling to Asheville for rehearsals, have been worthwhile because she believes in the ACA’s mission to teach kids how to become voices for change in their communities. “I’m here because being a part of projects that have the mission to transform people and communities is the most important work to do,” she says. “I’ve also been teaching for 18 years, so being able to do this transformational work with children simply feels like home for me.”
The cast includes ACA resident artist Katie Jones and musicians Jonathan Santos of Asheville, Gina Stewart from Charlotte and Jason Stanley from New York City. The performers onstage will be backed up by The Barnyard Band, a collective of young, Asheville-based musicians (Reina Corcoran on guitar, Sam Yoffee on saxophone, Gray Chatham on trumpet, Dax Chatham on piano and Reed Atherton on vocals), who will play accompaniment while costumed as farm animals. Gabrielle Tee of Asheville Music School, the youth musical director for the show, helped the five young members of the Barnyard Band learn their parts and adapt even as changes are made by the creative team in New York.
“We have had to change things for the instrumentation, or someone’s vocal part, or put something in a different key, or we’ve sped it up to twice as fast as I taught them, so it goes along with the dance,” says Tee. “At first, it was a little unnerving, but then I realized the advantage of doing this is [the actors will] learn how to really collaborate. I’ve been really impressed.”
It was that the message of the play that pulled Tee in. “Click, Clack, Moo is about teaching kids the power of written word and spoken word for protest,” she says. “I think that both the young and older students are aware, on varying levels, of the political unrest. [The play] is showing them the power of using their words and working together, because that’s what the cows do.”
WHAT: Asheville Creative Arts presents Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type
WHERE: The Magnetic Theatre, 375 Depot St., themagnetictheatre.org
WHEN: Friday, July 21, through Sunday, July 30. See website for showtimes. $12 students/$23 adults