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Improv as Kid Stuff : A desire to create entertainment for children as an alternative to TV culminates with 'The Magic Mirror' in Burbank.

August 13, 1993|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Janice Arkatov is a regular contributor to Valley Life.

Bonnie Strassner believes a child's imagination is a beautiful place to plumb.

"Kids get so enthused at the prospect of making something up," says the producer, whose improvisational show for children, "The Magic Mirror," has been playing for 18 months at the Third Stage in Burbank.

The production is keyed to children ages 4 to 12.

"The concept is to make as interactive a theater piece as we possibly can," Strassner says. "We want to stimulate their little imaginations, and nothing does that like improv. So we start with the magic mirror, through which they can travel--and in which anything can happen. Then we ask them their favorite storybook or comic-book character. They make a wish, and off we go, making up a sketch out of that."

A couple of set-pieces are included in the show: updated versions of "Androcles and the Lion" and "The Ant and the Grasshopper." And the rest is improv.

The "Mirror" improvs can run up to 10 minutes, depending on "how well it's working, how stimulated the kids get," Strassner says. There are also improv raps and improv operas.

"To my knowledge, it's the only interactive theater for children," says creator-director Raf Mauro. "The kids drive your energy right through the roof. It's like a tonic."

It was encountering Strassner's son Casey, then 7 and parked in front of a TV, that sparked Mauro's idea to create an alternative form of entertainment for children. But launching the show wasn't easy: Strassner and Co. pounded the pavement, distributing flyers at every child-friendly venue they could think of: neighborhood playgrounds, the Cirque du Soleil's performances at the Santa Monica Pier.

Diligence paid off: The show bowed in November, 1991, at Actors Alley and is still running strong.

(It's also available in duplicate: Every Saturday at 3 p.m., another company of "Magic Mirror" performs at the Promenade Actors Studio in Santa Monica.)

Born in Teaneck, N.J., daughter of a saloon singer, Strassner, 43, worked as a talent agent in New York before moving to California in 1976. Since her son's birth, she has returned occasionally to agenting, public relations and video production; recently she joined her TV editor husband in a "mom and pop" operation marketing a videotape editing system he created--which is in use at such shows as "Rescue 911" and "Unsolved Mysteries."

Continuing the all-for-one family tradition, she says that her son has seen "Magic Mirror" 400 times and "considers himself an associate producer."

The show is a charmingly portable proposition: no sets and no props.

"I have a rep company of 12 from which I cull," says the producer, who uses three actors for each show and is already booking schools into the show's fall schedule.

"I'm real proud of the quality of this show. Frankly, it's nothing short of a miracle for a show like this to run almost two years."

Chalk that up to good reviews, good word of mouth, and lots of kids coming back for more.

"Mothers are always coming up to me," Strassner says, "and telling me they find the kids behind the sofa at home playing 'Make a Wish.' "

Where and When What: "The Magic Mirror." Location: Third Stage, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Hours: 12 noon Saturdays. Indefinitely. Price: $7. Call: (818) 842-4755.

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