Movie Schedule

Northwest Bookshelf brings the magic of musical theater to the classroom

by Victor Simoes

In February, 5th Avenue Theater tours local schools with its educational show, the Northwest Bookshelf series. This series began in 1994 under the name Adventure Musical Theater to bring the magic of musical theater from a traditional theater setting into the classroom.

This year’s program, which is intentionally aimed at supporting Kindergarten through 5th grade audiences, is based on five different stories by Pacific Northwest authors: Alaska’s Three Pigs by Arlene Laverde A normal turtle by Doug Reynolds and Sonya’s chicken by Phoebe Wahl, as well as two books that are part of Narwhal and Jelly Series by Ben Clanton: Narwhal: unicorn of the seas! and Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt.

In the show’s premise, four characters are students and they have to write a book report. As they search the library for exciting books to complete their quest, they pull out the books and open them, and the story comes to life as they suddenly become the characters of those stories.

Maddi Chancey enters "Sonya's chickens" as part of the Northwest Bookshelf Series
Northwest Bookshelf discusses love and loss in the musical theater adaptation of Phoebe Wahl’s Sonya’s Chickens. Pictured: Maddi Chancey. (Photo: Andrew Garrett)

In Sonya’s chicken, for example, actors become Sonya. Approaching the themes of affection, caring and loss, the story tells how Sonya raises, cares for, nurtures and loves her three chickens since they were little. One night one of these chickens goes missing and the search for her beloved chicken begins. The answers to the whereabouts of the missing chicken come with lessons about the cycles of nature and life, love and loss.

The 2023 edition of the show is unique as it is the first edition since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic; The last time Northwest Bookshelf toured was in 2019. Amberlee Joers, associate director of education at 5th Avenue Theater, explained that the organizers carefully selected the adapted books because they have themes of social and emotional learning, as well as connections to arts integration and science contain.

Ariel Bradler, director of education and engagement at 5th Avenue Theater, told the emerald“A really cool thing is [that] one of the more rural schools we go to, they’ll bring their entire school from something like that [kindergarten] to 12. And the show was geared towards that [kindergarten through 5th grade]. And they understand that, but they want to get older students to experience the career side of things, to see that there are careers in art that you can have; Here is an example of that.”

The actors will also provide workshops for elementary school students and a talk with middle school students for high school students. During the talkbacks, actors discuss their lives as professional artists and how their careers have evolved, and offer advice to students pursuing careers in the arts.

“We will also be training all the actors and people who are going to be touring with it on how to conduct these workshops and use the school’s curriculum,” Bradler said. “That way they have a choice whether they want to be heavily involved in it or not at all. But at least they will all have an awareness of what the connection and connections are to the pedagogical learning components of the show.”

The series begins February 24-25 at Woodland Park Zoo. The zoo is preparing to welcome the theater group with a walk-through exhibit inspired by the stories. The organization takes one of the books Sonya’s chickens, and create an exhibit so families can walk through the exhibit and experience the full story. The show will be accessible, with a book version in Braille and an audio recording of the story.

South End schools included in the program tour are Kimball Elementary, Graham Hill Elementary, Lowell Elementary, Thurgood Marshall Elementary, Dearborn Park International Elementary and South Shore PK-8.

Tour dates are yet to be announced and interested schools can still book performances through Northwest Bookshelf. For more information on tour content, visit the 5th Avenue Theater website and fill out the prospect form for more details on booking a performance.

Victor Simoes is an international student at the University of Washington pursuing a dual degree in journalism and photo/media. Originally from Florianópolis, Brazil, they love radical organization, hyper-pop and their beloved cats. Her writing focuses on community, arts and culture. You can find her on Instagram or Twitter at @victorhaysser.

📸 Featured Image: Northwest Bookshelf’s Dakota Daley (left) and Rheanna Atendido (right) become Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt to bring the adventures of the Ben Clanton book to life. (Photo: Andrew Garrett)

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