Germantown-based theater company takes latest performance to Center City stage

 Director Jake Miller talks to the cast. (Alaina Mabaso/for NewsWorks)

Director Jake Miller talks to the cast. (Alaina Mabaso/for NewsWorks)

After eight years of cooperatively created full-scale original musicals each winter, the Germantown-based Yes! And… Collaborative Arts is looking forward to a big move: taking their annual “Winter Sort of Thing” show from its longtime home on the Eastern University stage to the mainstage at Center City’s Plays & Players Theatre.

The co-founders of YACA all attended the theater program at Eastern University together, so its McInnis Hall venue there was a natural fit for their students’ performances. But they’re ready to branch out, said 2016 show director, choreographer, and YACA cofounder Jake Miller.

This year’s show, written by YACA co-founder and collaboratively developed alongside student work-shoppers, is called “The Silliest Story Ever Told,” and it’s running from Jan. 28 to 31. The show boasts a cast of 31 kids, from age eight all the way up to high school seniors, plus a few local adult theater professionals.

“It was time to go out there in the big bad world,” Miller said of bringing the show to Plays & Players. He’s excited to be “giving students that opportunity to be in a professional theater with such a great history.”

“Our cast is very excited to be in a theater downtown,” he added.

Each year, the winter performance gets its start with a week-long intensive summer workshop, Miller explained. YACA directors bring a basic concept to the summer workshop, but the seed of the winter show comes out of the week of improvisations and exercises with the kids. Following the workshops, the show’s writer takes the developing direction of the show and begins to put the story together, bringing preliminary scripts that the kids and their adult collaborators continue to adapt through a series of additional fall workshops.

By Thanksgiving, the script is finalized, and rehearsals run throughout December and January.

Everyone who appears in the cast must participate in the fall workshops, Miller said, calling the kids’ “early buy-in” to developing the show, as well as performing in it, essential to its success.

This year, Sexton’s script is joined by music director Jeff Thomas, and Germantown architect, artist, and composer Charlie McGloughlin has penned several original songs.

“We don’t want it to be a drop-off program,” Miller added of the YACA model, which also includes groups like SHADOW Company, which has mounted student-developed Fringe Festival shows for the last several years. YACA wants the investment of parents and guardians in the program, and encourages this by involving adult volunteers in its production, and hosting rehearsal pot-lucks (or “snack-lucks”) for families.

While most YACA participants pay a tuition fee for the programs, ultimately, no kids are turned away for lack of funds, and the group raises money for scholarships when needed.

The concept for “The Silliest Story Ever Told” has evolved a lot over the last several months, Miller said, but with the kids’ input and development, the script became a story inspired by the kind of plays that imaginative youngsters mount right in their living rooms. It’s a song-and-dance filled homage to a fictional children’s book author when young fans find themselves tumbling into the world of the books.

Miller said that kids come from all over the city to participate in the show, and the racial, cultural, and economic diversity of the cast means kids forge real friendships they wouldn’t otherwise have made, which boosts the quality of the work and enhances the youngsters’ experience.

The “diversity of a community of makers is key to learning,” he said.

Yes! And… Collaborative Arts’ 2016 Winter Sort of Thing show, “The Silliest Story Ever Told,” runs for approximately 90 minutes (with intermission) and is appropriate for all ages.

The show will run Jan. 28 to 31 at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Place. Tickets ($15 for adults; $8 for kids and seniors) are available by calling 215-ART-GANG or by visiting the YACS website.

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