No matter how good the performance, eventually you will lose an elementary school kid's attention, says Michael-Anthony Souza, the star of Theatreworks-USA's adaptation of "Nate the Great."
"It takes a lot to keep kids engaged the entire time," Souza said. "And if they do wander off - and they do, about 40 minutes in - you have to bring them back."
It's a great challenge for an actor, the 24-year-old said in a recent phone interview from his home in Albany, N.Y.
The cast of TheatreworksUSA’s “Nate the Great”?come to the Mishler Theatre this week.
"Childrens' theater is very important and speaks to a very specific discipline for an actor," he said.
"I think everyone should do it at some point."
Keeping the kids' attention will be a main goal when Souza and company bring "Nate the Great" to the Family Theatre at the Mishler series this week. After performing for local schools, the show will be presented to the general public at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
If you go
What: "Nate the Great," presented by TheatreworksUSA
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Mishler Theatre, Altoona
Tickets: $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5.50 for children, plus a $2.50 box office handling fee. Tickets may be purchased at the Mishler box office, by calling 944-9434 or online at www.mishlertheatre.org. A grandparent is admitted free when accompanied by their grandchild, but that offer is not good online.
The show is the next to last performance in the Family Theatre series this year, says Kate Shaffer, the executive director of the Blair County Arts Foundation, which runs the program with the support of many community sponsors.
One of the goals of the series is to have every elementary school child in the area see at least one show per year.
"We've got a good audience from the schools," Shaffer said. "We usually have about 800 students for each performance."
TheatreworksUSA has been a huge part of the program, which was founded in 1986, she says.
"For the last 17 years, as long as I've been doing this, we've had two or three Theatreworks productions every year," Shaffer said. "They have such a large repertoire."
"Nate the Great," like many of Theatreworks' more than 100 productions, is adapted from a popular childrens' book series.
The 26 "Nate" books were written by award-winning author Marjorie Sharmat and follows young detective Nate, who idolizes the great detectives of popular culture, like Sherlock Holmes. The books find Nate solving cases for his young friends between eating stacks of his favorite food, pancakes.
Theatreworks' play adapts the first book in the series, which finds Nate trying to find his friend Annie's missing painting. In a change from the books, Nate gets assistance from his imaginary friends - Holmes and fellow star sleuth Charlie Chan.
This will be the first time the "Nate the Great" production will be performed in Altoona.
"I'd always heard the name, 'Nate the Great,' [but] I never read the book until I was cast as Nate," Souza said. "The play is very word-for-word what the book says. In the book, he doesn't have imaginary friends, so they added that."
The story has a lot of appeal for kids, he said, particularly because many schools assign the book as classwork prior to the performance. Souza also said that he likes playing the part of a kid not much different from those in his audience.
"It's great, because you get to tap into your younger self," he said. "I've baby-sat kids before and there's this one kid that I'm kind of basing Nate the Great on. ... It's fun to let go of your inhibitions and let loose as a kid."
Souza said he loves childrens' theater and though he plans to move on to more adult roles, he wouldn't trade the experience.
"[Childrens' theater] has been a part of my career a lot," Souza said. "I love kids. You kind of feel like a rock star sometimes because they scream a lot."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.