For nearly a century, young children have been charmed by a yellow, honey-loving bear wearing a bright red shirt. The bear’s name is Winnie the Pooh. Winnie has a circle of friends – Owl, Rabbit, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo, and of course a little boy named Christopher Robin.
Author A.A. Milne lived on a farm located along the edge of Five Hundred Acre Wood in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, South East England. When he began writing short stories for his young son, Christopher Robin Milne, in the 1920s, that patch of forest became the infamous (but fictional) Hundred Acre Wood. His original book, titled “Winnie The Pooh,” was the first in a series of four about Christopher Robin, Pooh and friends.
That original book, published in 1926, along with its characters recently came into the public domain, which is good news for Winnie the Pooh’s fans on the Lower Shore. Matt Bogdan, who has a long history with Community Players of Salisbury, has made “Winnie The Pooh” the basis for his third traveling production.
“The original book had 10 chapters, or stories,” Bogdan said. “But it was a bit long, and since it’s somewhat geared to children, it’s been edited down to seven of those stories, or about an hour long.”
Matt Hatfield, a veteran of numerous Players’ productions, is a lifelong Pooh fan.
“I’ve always loved Winnie the Pooh, growing up watching the cartoons, and my mother’s best friend was obsessed with Tigger while I was growing up,” he said. “When Matt told me he was doing this, I had to jump on it.”
The show is performed by two sets of actors; which cast you will see is determined by the venue. Each group will perform three shows presented at three different locations (for a total of six venues). There are no sets to build and no costumes to create, making these smaller productions nimble enough to move around the Lower Shore.
In lieu of costumes the actors will use stuffed animals as props to represent the character they are portraying. Each cast member plays different roles in each of the seven stories.
The focus is always on the actor’s portrayal of a character, using dialogue and interactions with other characters to bring the audience into the story. Each story has a narrator make introductions and set the stage in the absence of a background and set.
Still, the show is a children’s play based on a children’s book; childhood memories and associations will likely resonate with older audience members.
“There’s a sweetness in these stories that is appealing to all ages,” Bogdan said.
Coreen “Cory” Dolly said she likes to be involved in theater regardless of the show, but admitted this one is extra special for her.
“Winnie The Pooh holds a special place in my heart,” she said. “Both of my kids’ nurseries were done in Winnie the Pooh. There’s just something so endearing about him.”
“I’ve always enjoyed Winnie The Pooh. I enjoy small shows and the opportunity to travel to smaller venues,” said Billy Conry, also a cast member. “And I like working with Matt.”
“You’re never too young and never too old for Winnie The Pooh,” Bogdan said. “It’s not just for children. It’s a story about friendship and kindness. Yes, it’s whimsical, but it also contains some nice moral lessons on helping others, cheering them up and if someone’s in trouble, doing what you can to help them.”
Scott Yackel became involved because he wanted to perform in a show his young son could watch.
“This is the first time I’ve done a play since college, around 2006,” Yackel said. “My son, who’s 8 years old, is passionate about animals.”
Ann Northam sees this show as a bright spot in an increasingly stressed out world.
“In this mad, mad, mad world we are living in now, where everything is rough going, it’s nice to have some whimsy come into our lives.”
Half of all proceeds from Winnie The Pooh will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, whose mission is to advance cures and means of prevention for catastrophic pediatric diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.
A silent auction is being held in conjunction with this show. Auction items will be on display at all venues and bidding will continue throughout the performance period. Auction items are also available online for viewing and bidding.
Visit sbyplayers.com for information about performances and the auction.