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Paintbox Theatre presents ‘Grace for President’

  • Tom McCabe, right, rehearses with the cast of "Grace for President," from left, Linda Tardiff as Mrs. B, Jasmine Jiles as Grace and Callum LaFrance as Thomas Cobb. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Linda Tardiff plays Mrs. B in Paintbox Theatre's production of "Grace for President". —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jasmine Jiles plays Grace in Paint Box Theatre's production of "Grace for President". GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • In the play that will kick off Picture Book Month at the Eric Carle Museum, Grace (Jasmine Jiles) is pitted against Thomas Cobb (Callum LaFrance) in a race for president. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS


For the Bulletin
Wednesday, November 02, 2016

By JAKE JOHNSON

Children can cast ballots right alongside their parents this weekend at Paintbox Theatre’s performances of “Grace for President” at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst.

Based on the children’s book “Grace for President” by Kelly de Pucchio, the play chronicles the story of Grace, a fifth-grader who is inspired to become the first female president. Her class runs a mock election, pitting Grace against a classmate, Thomas.

Tom McCabe, 63, the artistic director of Paintbox Theatre adapted the book into a play after a group of educators spoke to him about the book’s utility in teaching kids how the U.S. Electoral College system works. It’s a complicated system, McCabe said in an interview last week at Paintbox Theatre’s office in Northampton.

“If you’re still wondering about the Electoral College, you’re not the only one,” he said. “It is all explained in the play.”

Playing along

Paintbox Theatre’s unique production style involves a great deal of audience participation, McCabe says. Children and parents are encouraged to call out at their pleasure, to ask questions, or even to voice displeasure.

“In our theater, there is no illusion,” McCabe explained. “Sometimes you [the actor] are Captain Hook, but sometimes you’re just Jake. If a kid asks us to stop to ask something, it would stop.”

Each production consists of three actors, a couple of doors, a window and a screen. On the screen, children’s drawings are projected, depicting their visions of what the scene in the play might look like. Along the way, questions are posed to the audience, asking them to solve word or math problems.

For “Grace,” the audience will be given cards designating which state they represent, and are invited to individually vote for who they’d like to see win. Throughout the performance, polls will be taken and trends are noted.

Linda Tardif, 27, plays Mrs. B., Grace’s teacher who stages the class election. Now in her seventh year with Paintbox, she has performed in such productions as “Puss in Boots,” “The Three Little Pigs” and the troupe’s annual Christmas production, “The Santa Show.”

“I always say that Paintbox is my favorite time of the year,” Tardif said. “What keeps me coming back is the excitement a child has experiencing theater for the first time. It’s such a gift.”

Picture this

The Paintbox performance will kick off the Eric Carle Museum’s observation of Picture Book Month, an international initiative that celebrates picture books. Throughout November, events, exhibits and programs will be presented at the museum that promote children’s literacy, including book readings and a puppet show by Picture Book Theatre.

Each day of the month will feature a different picture-book champion — including award-winning authors or illustrators like Newbery Medal winner Kwame Alexander and Vermont author and performer Elizabeth Bluemle — who will make a post on the Picture Book Month website (picturebookmonth.com.) explaining why they believe picture books are important for children.

Showtimes for “Grace for President,” which will be staged in the auditorium of the Eric Carle Museum at 125 West Bay Road in Amherst, are Saturday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Tickets cost $8 ($7.50 for museum members) and are available at the museum admissions desk, by calling 559-6336, or at the door, if available.

For information, visit www.tommccabe.com, www.carlemuseum.org