What do Christmas, gangsters, a radio station, great books, and friendship have in common? They are all themes, settings, or characters from various plays that actor Doug Jarecki has performed in. He even wrote some of the scripts.
When it comes to theater, Doug wears multiple hats. Last time he told us about his acting, teaching, and ongoing role at Waukesha Civic Theater as Education and Outreach Administrator. Join me for another Q & A today to learn more about his script writing, directing, and producing, plus his development of the children’s theater company Kidsplay.
When did you and Matt Huebsch cofound Kidsplay?
Doug: Matt and I started Kidsplay about twelve years ago. We met while working together as Discovery World performers. Both he and I had extensive children’s theatre experience, and we would just chat sometimes about what kinds of shows we would like to do.
We realized we had similar ideas, and we knew we enjoyed working with each other, so we decided to give Kidsplay a try and write some original and interactive shows for kids.
How did you get the idea for this concept?
Doug: During our frequent talks, we both strongly agreed on something—nothing we say as performers could be as funny as what a child might say. Therefore, our shows are structured to create as many opportunities for kids as we can. Our scripts are in outline form, which gives us the freedom to improvise and interact with each audience differently. We tour around southeastern Wisconsin libraries every summer.
While each of our shows helps to reinforce some kind of positive behavior,
how we get there can vary greatly from audience to audience.
It gives our shows a very unique feel,
and also keeps it fresh for us every time.
How long is the interactive show?
Doug: All of our shows run approximately 45 minutes, but can be adapted to meet more specific time requirements. During that 45 minutes, we have a lot of opportunities for kids to join us on stage. We never want to have our audience just sitting and listening to us talk for too long.
What age of children is this best suited for?
Doug: One of the best compliments we get is that adults find the show as funny as the kids do. In general, the kids at our shows range anywhere from 4 or 5 all the way to 12 or 13. And that’s a benefit of having an improv background—if an audience is a bit older, we can adjust accordingly.
How many library shows do you do per summer?
Doug: This summer, we are scheduled to do around 50 shows throughout southeastern Wisconsin. We’ll also do a handful of Dr. Seuss shows in the spring and some Elf training shows around the holidays every year. Kidsplay really is a labor of love that we try to fit into our regularly scheduled lives.
How does it compare to your classes for kids at WCT?
Doug: Kidsplay is a separate entity from WCT. I wear my teacher hat at WCT. With Kidsplay, it’s a chance for Matt and I to be performers and create ideas and characters that we think would be fun for kids to watch. It is definitely not a classroom environment.
In my classes at WCT,
I am always challenging students to take creative risks
and make bold choices.
Kidsplay really gives me the opportunity to practice what I preach,
and I’m a better teacher because of it.
What are your favorite shows to direct?
Doug: Like my favorite acting roles, I like the shows that scare me a bit. The ones that are outside of my comfort zone. I do a lot of comedy, both as a director and actor, so I relish the occasional opportunity to do something serious.
Do you prefer directing adults or kids, and why? What are the pros and cons of each?
Doug: It doesn’t matter to me what age the performers are, as long as they are willing to play and put themselves out there. In general, though, the kids I’ve worked with tend to be more willing to jump in and take those creative risks.
How is it easier or more difficult to direct with your own acting experience? In other words, does being an actor get in the way of helping someone develop their own character? Or is it an asset?
Doug: I think it’s definitely an asset. And it works both ways. I find that I am a better actor because of my directing experience.
I think in any working relationship,
if you have experience in the other person’s shoes,
that is only going to help
open the lines of communication.
How does the theater staff decide which shows to do in any given year? How do you go about finding directors for those shows?
Doug: WCT is a community theatre, so we involve the community in the play selection process. Anyone can sign up to be on our Play Advisory Committee, which meets a few times during the summer, to select the upcoming season.
Finding directors for those shows falls to our Managing Artistic Director. Once the season is selected, she will accept applications from directors throughout the community and piece together who will direct what.
What made you want to try writing your own plays?
Doug: I have always admired writers. It always seemed so incredibly difficult, to start with nothing and create a story from scratch. And I was right—it’s really hard! The idea of it was incredibly intimidating to me, which made me really want to accept the challenge.
What is ’Twas The Month Before Christmas?
Doug: ’Twas The Month is the first full length play I ever wrote, and it tells the story of Joe and Mary, the three kings, and the innkeeper in the month leading up to that magical night in Bethlehem. It looks at the “other” stories that brought all of them together in Bethlehem that night. It’s a very funny comedy, but it also has a lot of heart and sincerity to it.
Where did the inspiration for ’Twas The Month Before Christmas come from?
Doug: I used to be in a sketch comedy group, and I wrote a script for it that involved Joe and Mary in couples counseling as they try to raise a young Jesus. Not only did I love writing the script, but the audience response to it was overwhelmingly positive.
The key was to treat Joe and Mary as real people, young parents going through the same struggles that any young parent would. I felt strongly that there was a lot more story there to tell, and eventually I pieced all of it together for ’Twas The Month.
How did you first produce the play?
Doug: Truly, it was the biggest leap of faith I have taken in my professional career. I saved up enough money to rent a theatre, hire actors, etc. I felt like I had something special here, but that is no guarantee that anyone is going to buy a ticket to see it.
So I worked as hard as I could to get the word out any way I could, and thankfully the results were even better than I had hoped for. We received outstanding reviews and large audiences.
Ever since then, it has continued to grow. Our first two times producing the show, we were in a 150-seat black box theatre. This December, we will be returning to Vogel Hall, a beautiful 475-seat theatre in the Marcus Center.
Your risk-taking definitely paid off! The show will be at Vogel Hall for the third year in a row. What is the key to its continued success?
Doug: One of the best compliments I get about the show is that people enjoy how respectful it is of the source material.
This story is very near and dear to me,
and I wanted to make sure that while we had fun
with elements of the story,
we never made fun of anything about it.
Personally, I’m not a fan of mean-spirited humor. So while this play has some truly hilarious moments, there are also very emotional and sincere moments that catch the audience off guard.
We all know the story, and we all know everyone’s role in it. But as I started to imagine it, I started to wonder if they really did know their roles. What I found was that by giving these characters some doubts and fears about what they were doing, it made it a more impactful story for me.
After all, anyone can do something if they know it’s going to work out.
But if you don’t know how it’s going to end,
and you still take the risk because you have faith,
it becomes more powerful.
BIO: Doug has been the Education and Outreach Director at the Waukesha Civic Theatre since 2008. He is a professional stage actor, with local credits including Next Act, Milwaukee Chamber, In Tandem, Skylight Music, DanceWorks, and more. He has also been acting on camera for almost 20 years, appearing in commercials for Travel Wisconsin, Mill’s Fleet Farm, and more. He is the cofounder of Kidsplay, a children’s theatre company that tours the area with fun-filled, highly interactive shows. He has also written several scripts, including ‘Twas The Month Before Christmas, which will be returning to Vogel Hall at the Marcus Center in December 2020.
Do you have any questions for Doug? OR . . . have you ever taken a risk trying to get your own artwork, show, or writing before an audience?
Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!