Credited for being “quicker than most grown-up groups to retool its programming” (Chicago Magazine), Chicago Children’s Theatre continues to expand its free, at-home virtual theater and learning programs with a new podcast series for kids and families.
Titled X-Marks the Spot, the new podcast is a five-part, serialized audio play based on Chicago Children’s Theatre’s acclaimed 2019 world premiere production of the same name.
Pictured: Yuria Roebke.
Much like the original play, CCT’s new X-Marks the Spot podcast was designed with the visually impaired community in mind. That said, this exciting new family adventure tale is equally aimed at all audiences, with a goal of inspiring young listeners to engage more deeply with all five of their senses.
The first of five X-Marks the Spot episodes premiered Friday, January 29th. Similarly, subsequent episodes, each approximately one-half hour, will drop every Friday in February at noon.
Go to chicagochildrenstheatre.org to link to CCT's podcast page on Apple iTunes. Users can also download episodes via Spotify, Soundcloud or Pocketcast. For audiences who are hearing impaired, all-text, captioned versions will be posted on the company's new Youtube channel, CCTv.
X-Marks the Spot: Smash that subscribe button!
X-Marks the Spot is a clever, funny story of a Chicago family who relocates to a Michigan lake community. While exploring their new environment, the Otis family’s four adventure-seeking siblings discover a mischievous wishing fairy in the sands of Lake Michigan. Melody, the oldest sister, has a visual impairment, uses a cane to get around, reads and writes using Braille, but has no problem keeping up with and looking after her brothers and sisters.
At a time when kids are so tethered to their screens and disconnected more than ever from the sensory world, X-Marks the Spot is the “X-Tra Sensory” experience kids truly need right now. Over the course of five episodes, listeners are invited to “dim the lights, close your eyes and join us on an adventure” as the kids explore their new surroundings, grapple with the impish sand fairy, and learn the old adage “be careful what you wish for.”
Woven into each episode are revealing anecdotes about how Melody navigates through a variety of family escapades, as well as key moments when both the characters and listeners are encouraged to connect with their sense of smell, sound, taste and touch with deep intention. Naturally, each episode ends with a good cliffhanger, plus a suggested activity kids can try at home to better connect with the world around them using their senses.
“I think of X-Marks the Spot as an example of ”reverse inclusion” – or creating a work of theater starting with the audience that, typically, is added last,” said Jacqueline Russell, Co-Founder and Artistic Director, Chicago Children’s Theatre.
“For example, we didn’t start with a play for sighted audiences and tack inclusion on at the end in the form of, say, a Touch Tour or audio description. Rather, we created a work in which the visually impaired community was the first audience we considered, but knowing all audiences would be able to engage with the story, emerge more curious about experiencing life with a visual impairment, and plug more deeply into all five of their senses.”
(left, from left) Anthony Lombard (Peanut), Amanda de la Guardia (Melody) and Tina Munoz-Pandya (Sky) also joined forces to play the sand fairy in Chicago Children’s Theatre’s 2019 world premiere live production of X-Marks the Spot. (right) CCT teaching artist Perry Hunt helped audience members wearing blindfolds to connect with all five of their senses in the 2019 world premiere of X-Marks the Spot.
Both the original stage play and new X-Marks the Spot podcast, conceived and directed by Russell, were informed by her 2018 residency at James Otis World Academy, a CPS school in Chicago’s West Town community with a population of students who are visually impaired. In fact, for the new podcast, Russell tapped Melody Blakey, (9), a 4th grader at Otis who loves theater and acting, and who Russell first met during her residency, to be an authentic voice in the role of Melody.
CCT also looked within its own ranks of local children enrolled in the company’s education programs to cast age-appropriate actors for the roles of Melody’s sister, Sky, played by Yuria Roebke (11), and brother, Devon, played by Blake Yucan (12).
Original cast member Anthony Lombard returns as the narrator and voices multiple roles, including the wishing fairy and the family baby, Peanut.
Melody Blakey, (9), a 4th grader at James Otis World Language Academy, was cast as an authentic voice for the role of Melody.
Yuria Roebke (left) plays Sky, and Blake Yucan (right) is Devon in the new X-Marks the Spot podcast series.
Anthony Lombard, an original cast member in the 2019 world premiere of X-Marks the Spot, returns in the new podcast as the narrator and voices multiple roles, including the wishing fairy and the family baby, Peanut.
The X-Marks the Spot podcast is written and directed by Jacqueline Russell, with original music by Paris Ray Dozier and sound design by Kevin O’Donnell. Elijah Eiler is low vision specialist. Will Bishop is director of production. Danny Fender is production coordinator. The story for X-Marks the Spot is loosely based on the Victorian era children’s novel, Five Children and It, by Edith Nesbit.
More virtual theatre and learning from Chicago Children’s Theatre
X-Marks the Spot is the second original podcast series produced by Chicago Children’s Theatre since pivoting from live to virtual productions meant to keep kids engaged and entertained at home until we can all be together in a theater again. It follows last fall’s release of CCT’s new Walkie Talkies series of podcasts created by local theater artists that encourage families to get outside and explore Chicago neighborhoods together.
In addition to introducing podcasts on Apple iTunes and other streaming platforms, CCT’s main hub for free, on-demand online theater, storytelling and craft making resources is CCTv: Virtual Theatre and Learning from Chicago Children’s Theatre.
There, kids, families, teachers and caregivers will find original productions like Diamond’s Dream, a short puppet film by Jerrell L. Henderson and Caitlin McLeod about a boy who rides the CTA Red Line with a spirit girl lost to Spanish flu 100 years ago, toy theater productions of Frederick: A Virtual Puppet Performance based on Leo Lionni’s Frederick, read by Michael Shannon, Doll Face Has a Party!, a a doll-in-quarantine tale directed by Brian Selznick, and My Magic Breath, a co-production with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra that uses classical music to teach kids mindful breathing, narrated by Chicago First Lady Amy Eshleman.
In addition, CCTv is a free online destination for a host of “how to” tutorial videos taught by CCT teaching artists with costume, set, prop and puppet making tips for kids. CCTv also showcases filmed group class and camp finale projects from CCT’s Play@Home virtual youth education programs, and some of the best self-shot, short plays-on-film created and submitted by Chicago families during last year’s quarantine to the Ralla Klepak Foundation Play@Home Contest.
Click images above to screen (left) Diamond's Dream and (right) Leo Lionni's Frederick
Click images above to screen (left) Doll Face Has a Party! and (right) My Magic Breath
Play@Home classes: More online learning opportunities from Chicago Children’s Theatre
In addition to its new YouTube channel, Chicago Children’s Theatre offers a robust line-up of virtual Play@Home performing arts classes for theater novices, accomplished performers and everyone in-between. Winter session classes started in mid-January including Mini Musical Theatre for grades K-2, Stage and Movie SFX Make-Up for grades 4-7, a 14-week Elementary Ensemble new play devising and performance workshop, Shakespeare and Autism, and classes in improv. To learn more and register for CCT education programs, visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org.
About Chicago Children’s Theatre
“The Chicago theater scene is legendarily vibrant, so naturally a number of companies tailor productions to younger audiences. The cream of the crop is Chicago Children’s Theatre.” – Chicago Tribune
Chicago Children’s Theatre was founded in 2005 with a big idea: Chicago is the greatest theater city in the world, and it deserves a great children’s theater.
Sixteen years later, Chicago Children’s Theatre is the city’s largest professional theater company devoted exclusively to children and young families, with an international reputation for fostering diverse new works, employing professional writing, performing and directorial talent, and achieving high-quality design and production values.
In January 2017, Chicago Children’s Theatre celebrated the opening of its permanent home, The Station, 100 S. Racine Avenue in Chicago’s West Loop community. The former rough-and-tumble 12th District Chicago Police Station was repurposed into a beautiful, LEED Gold-certified performing arts, education and community engagement facility that, today, welcomes all Chicago families.
In 2017, Chicago Children’s Theatre became the first theater for young audiences in the U.S. to win a National Theatre Award from the American Theatre Wing, creators of the Tony Awards. CCT also received the 2019 National TYA Artistic Innovation Award from Theatre for Young Audiences/USA.
Chicago Children’s Theatre’s Education Division continues to grow its roster of youth performing arts and STEAM classes, workshops, winter and spring break camps, and summer camps. The company also provides thousands of free and reduced-price tickets to under-resourced CPS schools each year.
Chicago Children’s Theatre is led by Co-Founders, Artistic Director Jacqueline Russell and Board Chair Todd Leland, with Board President Armando Chacon.
For more, visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org.