Child's Play Touring Theater

by Jennifer Beck

Cast Photo
Cast Photo

The Child’s Play Touring Theater is a non-profit theater group devoted entirely to performing stories, songs, and poems written by kids. By combining the power of children’s imaginations with the artistry of professional actors, dancers, and musicians, Child’s Play has created one of the most innovative theater-going experiences in the world.

Child’s Play’s founders, Victor and June Podagrosi, came up with the idea for the theater group back in 1978 when Victor was teaching theater at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois. Asked to stage a performance of children’s writings for a Young Authors’ awards ceremony, Victor found himself enthralled by the sophistication and freedom of imagination he saw in the children’s work. “I was so completely turned on by the material and the audience response that I knew immediately that I had found my life calling.”

Victor Podagrosi Performs
Victor Podagrosi Performs

June Podagrosi, a professional dancer who had always loved working with children, felt the same way, and, by the end of 1978, the couple had formed the Child’s Play Touring Company. One year later, the theater group was traveling to schools throughout Central Illinois staging performances based on the writings of children.

It didn’t take long for the Child’s Play Touring Theater to attract both child and adult fans. In 1980 the Podagrosi’s incorporated as a non-profit and attracted donations and sponsors. In 1981 they broadcast two 30-minute shows on local television and created a full-time touring season. A National Endowment for the Arts grant soon followed, and, by 1990, Child’s Play had two full-time touring troupes and a schedule that spanned the continent with performances from Florida to Alaska.

Victor Podagrosi as Santa
Victor Podagrosi as Santa

Then, in 1994, tragedy struck. Victor Podagrosi, the driving force behind Child’s Play, died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 41. Friends, fans and colleagues turned out in force to mourn him. Said one, “Victor will always create and always be loved by so, so many. As one of the children put it so wonderfully, ‘He’s helping the angels write plays in Heaven.’ He’s already created Heaven on Earth.”

June Podagrosi
June Podagrosi

June, though devastated by Victor’s death, was determined to carry on their dream. And under her leadership, Child’s Play not only lived on, it flourished. The touring group reached a record-breaking 2.5 million children and adults during its 1995 performing season. June also established an award in her husband’s honor; the Victor Award is given annually to individuals and organizations demonstrating outstanding commitment and generosity to Children’s Touring Theater and the arts community.

Cast Photo
Cast Photo

In 2002 Child’s Play expanded even further, taking on a global scope. In that year, the touring group joined with the Writing our World project and began producing performances based on the writings of children worldwide. Included in this program is a story by a 13-year-old girl from the Dominican Republic called, “Henry and his Mother,” which June Podagrosi calls the heartbeat of the show. “Its message is that love is the greatest gift you can give or receive.”

A fitting message considering that it was love – of one another, of the theater, and of children – that drove Victor and June Podagrosi to start the Child’s Play Touring Theater nearly 25 years ago. And, as June says, it is the passion of thousands of adults and children that continues to fuel the dream today.

Page created on 6/16/2004 9:54:45 AM

Last edited 1/4/2017 11:30:54 PM

Related Links

Child's Play Web site - Learn more about how you can participate in and help Child's Play Touring Theater
- Read stories by children from around the world or even submit your own creative writing
- A resource for teachers interested in linking the arts and education
Kidlink.org - Talk to other children from around the world via Kidlink

Extra Info

Sources:

The Child's Play Touring Theater Web site;

Crane, Hilda, "Special Educator Workshops at the Westport County Playhouse,"
TEACHERS.NET, September 2002.

Maes, Nancy, "Writing is True Child's Play,"
CHICAGO TRIBUNE, May 3, 2002.