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FAMILY: Ventura County | FOR THE KIDS

Getting In on the Act

Summer plays in area parks will let youths join the activities on stage.


Things seem to happen when kids get to see a live theatrical performance. For one, they want to get up on the stage. "It's an [emotional] outlet for them," says Roxanne Harrison-Diesel, recalling experiences she's had in the county presenting shows for kids, ages 6 to 12.

When her 20-person troupe, Gypsies in a Trunk, performs a version of "The Wizard of Oz" at Barranca Vista Park in Ventura on Saturday, she anticipates "lots of interaction with the audience [because] we let kids come onto the stage early in the show."

Harrison-Diesel started her troupe three years ago to give kids an affordable way to see live theater. "We wanted to have something locally so families with young children could see a live performance without having to pay $8 a ticket," she said.

Gypsies in a Trunk will put on several performances this summer at Barranca Vista Park and Rancho Simi Community Park in Simi Valley--all free to the public. (In announcing the shows to the press, however, Ventura's Community Services Department noted: "To cover production costs, the actors will 'pass the hat' during the show." The Simi announcement suggests a donation of $1 a person.)

Harrison-Diesel's work with this group of volunteer actors is an outgrowth of the theater arts workshops she conducts for Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks District. Other members of Saturday's troupe--Lee Altma, Ron Kewish, Judy Kewish and George Ramsey--are also acting teachers or performers in shows at local venues.

After this Saturday's "Wizard of Oz" show, the troupe will do "The Three Little Pigs" on July 5 and 12; "Little Red & the Hoods" on Aug. 2 and 9; and "The Emperor's New Clothes" on Sept. 6 and 13.

Those kids who climb onto the stage to participate in the "Oz" doings will not be the only youngsters up there.

The lead role of Dorothy will be played by 12-year-old Jessica Souza of Simi Valley. Interviewed last week, the Madera Elementary School sixth-grader reminisced about her career: "This is my second big play. There was a Christmas show I was in last year, and then some little shows."

A Youth Performance Workshop Troupe, for kids 6 to 13, will give performances of one-act plays in August at the Simi amphitheater. Harrison-Diesel also plans to put participants through their paces in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

"If [people] could see some of these kids doing Shakespeare--and doing it well," she said, "they would realize there are some good stories to tell about youth other than sports."


"The Wizard of Oz," performed by Gypsies in a Trunk on Sat., 4 p.m., Barranca Vista Park, 7050 Ralston St., Ventura; free. 644-6542. For future performances, call 584-4400. For Youth Performing Workshop Troupe information, call 522-0449.

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