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Cool ÔCool DavisÕ show for kids

By October 5, 2010

Enterprise staff writer

For five years now, Jeff Falyn and Lyndsay Dawkins have been immersing children in the natural world through inter-active outdoor plays that feature the husband-and-wife duo in the lead roles.

ÒNatureÕs Theater,Ó which takes place at Stebbins Cold Canyon, near Lake Berryessa, combines a journey through nature with costumed characters; the shows always culminate in an environmental problem that the children themselves help solve.

Falyn, guide and program coordinator for the UC Davis Natural Reserve, had been leading outings through the canyon for adults for several years before he and his wife decided a childrenÕs program was needed too.

ÒNatureÕs Theater was born out of a lack of programming out there for kids,Ó Falyn said, adding that as parents themselves of two young daughters, Òwe thought, ÔWe can do this.Õ Ó

And so they did. Their first outing with children told the story of a ÔBirdmanÕ Ñ Falyn himself in bird costume Ñ who had lost his memory. As children were guided through the canyon, they learned facts about birds, and when Birdman appeared on the scene sans memory, they were able to restore it with all of the information theyÕd learned.

It was a hit with the kids, Falyn said, with children asking how Birdman was doing years later. And parents loved it too, especially after seeing what their children took away from the performances: A greater environmental awareness that translated into everyday life, Falyn said.

Since then, the duo have written about 20 full nature plays that theyÕve not only performed at NatureÕs Theater, but also at summer camps, schools and even birthday parties. The plays themselves are geared toward children between the ages of 4 and 10, but Falyn and Dawkins also have figured out how to reach older children: Now they teach the plays to teens to perform for younger children.

ÒWe reach two age groups that way,Ó noted Dawkins.

The teens, she explained, not only pick up leadership skills and learn how to teach younger children, they also learn a few things about the environment themselves.

And when the curtain opens on their latest play, ÒIn Search of King Carbon,Ó at the Cool Davis Festival on Sunday, it will be a group of Davis teens performing for Ñ and with Ñ younger audience members.

The performance Ñ which will take place on Sunday afternoon at the VeteransÕ Memorial Theater, 203 E. 14th St. Ñ is the culmination of a weekÕs worth of ÔKing CarbonÕ performances. Earlier in the week, five different casts comprised of 36 10th-graders from the Sacramento Waldorf School will have performed the play at five Davis schools: North Davis, Willett, Merryhill, Peregrine and Davis Waldorf.

And though the venues will be quite different Ñ the school performances will feature outdoor walking while the VMT show will take place indoors on the stage Ñ the message remains the same: What people can do to reduce global warming.

A serious subject for sure, but in Falyn and DawkinsÕ hands Ñ not to mention the hands of their talented teen cast Ñ the subject becomes lively, funny and thoroughly entertaining.

Last week, the Cool Davis cast Ñ complete with a nature guide, Earth king and a collection of hilarious, black-clad teenage CO2s Ñ were busy rehearsing with Falyn and Dawkins at Davis Community Church.

The directors enjoy watching what their young thespians do with their material.

ÒWe had an inkling it would be cool,Ó Dawkins said, Òbut watching them, we were like, ÔWow.Õ ItÕs amazing to sit back and watch them transform.Ó

As with all of the plays Falyn and Dawkins write, the children in the audience become a part of the performance, and kids will be invited up onstage at the VMT to participate.

The fall season of NatureÕs Theater gets underway in Stebbins Cold Canyon soon, with the first outing scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 17, from 10 a.m. to noon.

To check out the schedule and reserve a spot, visit http://nrs.ucdavis.edu/stebbins/guides/guide_schedule.htm or contact Falyn at [email protected]

ÒThereÕs something about this that brings out our passion for the outdoors,Ó Dawkins said of the work she and her husband enjoy. And she loves the benefit for children.

ÒHumans love stories,Ó she noted, Òbut so many of our stories have moved indoors with computers and televisions and Game Boys.Ó

Now the stories have moved back outdoors again, she noted.

Check out NatureÕs Theater

The new season of NatureÕs Theater gets underway in Stebbins Cold Canyon beginning Sunday, Oct. 17. The program Ñ aimed at children between the ages of 4 and 10 Ñ uses interactive stories as children explore the canyon with characters like ÒSummer,Ó ÒProfessor Planthead,Ó ÒZip Zap the nature hero,Ó and more. All programs are from 10 a.m. to noon. For additional information, or to RSVP, contact Jeff Falyn at [email protected] Please include a phone number in the e-mail.

Fall schedule:

Sunday, Oct. 17: Summer WonÕt Go (for ages 4 to 8)

Saturday, Oct. 30: Silly OleÕ Professor Planthead (for ages 6 to 10)

Saturday, Nov. 6: Nature Heroes (for ages 5 to 10)

Sunday, Nov. 14: To Be a Tree (for ages 5 to 10)

Sunday, Nov. 21: Consumasaurus, the Dragon (for ages 6 to 10)

Ñ Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at (530) 747-8051 or [email protected] Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

Anne Ternus-Bellamy

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