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TOY performances used as educational tool

A theater company in Buffalo, solely devoted to children, is celebrating its 45th season.  WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says the Theatre of Youth, known as TOY, continues entertaining young children with special performances as an educational tool. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Annie Mandart
Students from Elmwood Village Charter School watch the TOY production.

Inside the Allendale Theatre in the city's historic Allentown district children were enthralled as they watched a colorful stage performance called "Fancy Nancy: The Musical”.

TOY is the resident company at the Allendale Theater.  It's a building owned by the city, built back in 1913.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Allendale Theatre is home to TOY.

“I think it says a lot for our community that the city has invested in this building and dedicated it to children – to the creative lives of children,” said Meg Quinn, Artistic Director.                      

Bringing young children to watch a live theater performance at the Allendale also gives them an experience of rich architecture. It is a theater building with an impressive domed ceiling, gold trimmed walls and leaded glass windows.

Credit WBFO News photo by Annie Mandart
Inside the Allendale Theatre, home to TOY.

“We are always very aware, when we do a play here, how we are nurturing the creative thinking of the children who are here, so the way in which the play is staged, the sets, the costumes, the actor's performance, all of those things are helping children to think in a different way,” Quinn explained.

The children shows are selected not only to engage, but to challenge children and offer a lesson. The themes include self-esteem, self-confidence, acceptance and handling disappointment.

Credit WBFO News photo by Annie Mandart
Meg Quinn, Artist Director of TOY & Actress Sarah Blewett.

“I like to say it’s about their wonders and worries, the things that are on their mind, we can explore those, help them better understand themselves and the world around them through the story telling that we do,” described Quinn.

Schools are able to book a chance to see a performance. At this particular performance students from the Elmwood Village Charter School were in the audience.

“My name is Iman and my school is Elmwood Village Charter School. I learned that it doesn’t matter if you’re in play – it matters if you have fun,” Iman said.

“My name is Christopher. My school is Elmwood Village Charter School," said Christpher. “What did you learn from it?” asked Buckley. “I learned that making mistakes is what lots of people do,” responded Christopher.  

WBFO News talked with some third graders who offered their theater critique. 

“My name is Madeline and my school is Elmwood Village Charter School. It looked like it took a really, really long time because everything wasn’t perfect, but it was really amazing and awesome,” Madeline declared. “And it’s okay if you make mistakes, because if you make mistakes, you’re just going to be better at it,” added Christopher. 

Fancy Nancy is created for those ages five and older. Actress Sarah Blewett plays Fancy Nancy.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Actress Sarah Blewett plays Fancy Nancy & Meg Quinn, Artistic Director.

“She’s a storybook character. She’s a little girl, about six years old and she’s just kind of figuring out life, just like any other child. She goes through different experiences, but mostly she always has some kind of problem that she’s trying to figure out and she’s always got this amazing group of people behind her, whether it is her mother and her father or her best friend or her other group of friends that kind of help her figure it out with her,” Blewett explained.  

Blewett is a UB graduate and has been working in Buffalo theater for several years. This her second season at TOY.

“I just always wanted to work here, because all of the arts people – all of the theater people talk it up so much. Once you go to TOY you never go back as an actor, just because it is really about storytelling,” Blewett said.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Cast of Fancy Nancy answers questions from young students.

TOY also provides a special talk back session at the end of each performance. For about 15-20-minutes Quinn walks around with a microphone, encouraging students to ask questions as the actors casually sit at the edge of the stage to ask about the production.

“I think we are still around, because we fill a need,” Quinn remarked.