The Fabulists
The Tisbury amphitheater is fun for families during the weekly Saturday morning show by The Fabulists. Photo by Jon Ollwerther

Saturday morning theater

By Julian Wise - August 2, 2007

Every Saturday morning scores of small children and their older family members pile into the Tisbury amphitheater to laugh, clap, sing, and shout along with The Fabulists, the theater troupe that brings both familiar and obscure fables to life. The adult actors cavort in a lighthearted, rollicking manner that entertains the young audience members while amusing the adults with sly references and subtle jokes.

On a recent Saturday, a capacity audience crowded the amphitheater, sitting on the tiered wooden pilings. The scent of bug spray gave the air a summer camp feel as narrator Paul Padua charged from the leafy woods in garish jester garb to kick off the show. He introduced a goofy fable of Prince Benedict, future king of Woodslandia, who believes himself to be a chicken. Before long, Benedict (Chris Kann) is dressed in a rooster costume clucking and pecking as the Royal Chef (Paul Munafo) chases him, mistaking him for a cooking fowl. En route to the plot's silly denouement, children from the audience were called onstage to portray knights, farmyard animals, and dancers at the royal ball. The audience clapped during the musical moments and provided sound effects (storm winds, dragon's roars) on cue from the narrator.

The Fabulists have a solid grasp of the basics of showmanship, from tight pacing to an appropriately concise running time (the entire show clocked in under an hour). Mr. Padua, a co-producer alongside MJ Bruder Munafo, says the interaction with the audience is key to the success of the performances. "Right from the start, the fourth wall is broken," he says. "That's what kids want."

Mr. Padua's own children, aged 4 and 7, come every Saturday, and he and the troupe strive to create entertainment with a multiage appeal. "I liken what we do to the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons," he says. "There are jokes on every level. Our goal is to entertain everybody."

Mac Young, a frequent performer in the troupe, says performing for a young audience gives the actors liberty to loosen up and have fun. "In this kind of show you can do it with all the stops pulled out," he says. "You get total license. The kids really love it."

Julian Wise is a contributing writer to The Times.