Looking for something fun to do with your kids while the family is stuck at home? The Yard is offering the perfect solution for parents who are wondering how to keep their kids engaged and active during COVID days. For the next four weeks, the Chilmark-based dance organization will present fun, interactive Zoom programs that involve the whole family in a half-hour, multi-activity story and play time.
ScreenPLAY!, a virtual participatory performance series, was conceived by Bonnie Duncan of the Boston-based Gottabees. She and her team have visited the Yard previously, in 2017 and 2019, presenting live family shows. This year, Duncan decided to create some programming that would work in the virtual world, while still engaging viewers and getting kids up and moving around.
According to the Gottabees website, “We explore movement, puppetry, theater, and the irresistible power of being ridiculous. ScreenPLAY! allows you to channel your household’s creativity into an inspiring work of participatory art.”
Duncan explains how the series works. “I give you prompts to do,” she says. “Some are movement-based, project-based, maybe building something. We use the screen as a play space, and elements of Zoom that you might not have thought about. We all tell a story together using the skills we work on.
“The goal is for caregivers to have permission to be silly and ridiculous with their kids,” she adds. “You don’t have to plan anything. Just follow directions.”
Duncan, who has a background in dance as well as puppetry, previously visited the Yard with the Gottabees, each time presenting new, family-friendly theater pieces. It’s truly a family affair, as Duncan’s husband co-writes and produces the work, and her three kids serve as collaborators — her 9-year-old son even provides all of the Gottabees’ photography.
Duncan has noted that the Zoom format has some advantages over live performance. “People are much more willing to take risks and be silly because they’re in their homes,” she says. She’s noticed that in some cases, extended families are able to gather together virtually from different locations. “I’ll often have a grandparent in one space playing with their grandkids from another space, or cousins seeing each other on Zoom. That’s a really special thing.”
Each show is 30 minutes of nonstop activities and storytelling, to be shared with the entire family. Sometimes a family pet even joins in the fun. Duncan explains that in one of the virtual shows she asks the kids to grab something soft to share onscreen, and sometimes a guinea pig or dog shows up.
“What I love about doing this on Zoom is that we really connect,” says Duncan. “It’s all in gallery view, so you get to see other people play in their homes. It’s kind of a spontaneous gift of community.” In true Vineyard collaborative fashion, the Chilmark library has put together a reading list to accompany each performance.
The show’s titles give some indication of the imaginative storylines that Duncan will lead participants through, as families have the opportunity to travel far beyond the confines of their homes. “How to Charm a Sea Monster” is described with the following blurb: “Join Bonnie as you dive deep into an ocean in your living room, surrounded by creatures both friendly and dramatic. Hopefully, magic will prevail as we are tested to our limits by a curious Sea Monster.” Other titles include “Race Through the Snow,” “What We Found in the Forest,” and “Look Up: A Hot Air Balloon Adventure.”
“The ongoing challenge right now is trying to figure out ways to offer interactive family activities,” says the Yard’s director of Island programs and education, Jesse Keller Jason. “With ScreenPLAY! you’re really playing with [Duncan], and you’re part of the performance. She just has such a beautiful sense of play that she marries with incredible talent.”
Chloe Jones, the Yard’s new executive director, notes that Keller has devised an entire series of virtual family programming to present throughout the rest of the winter and spring. “The initiative marks an expansion of our family-friendly programs,” she says. “We’re bringing in a great group of artists that are offering a real range of experiences that are intended for the entire family.”
ScreenPLAY!, virtual interactive performances with the Gottabees, will take place on Zoom over the next four Saturday afternoons, Feb. 6, 13, 20, and 27. Like all of the Yard’s current programming, the shows are available to all on a pay-what-you-will basis. Visit dancetheyard.org to reserve your spot.