Imaginators Perform at Children's Museum

August 5,2009


Most times, Imagine It! The Children’s Museum of Atlanta pulses with the force of the sippy-cup set.

But for 20 minutes about five times a day, most everybody slows down, finds a comfy spot on the carpet and catches a show.

It’s the first experience with live theater for many, and from the moment the Imaginators open their mouths, kids are mesmerized. Children’s museums often partner with youth theaters, but few have a steady group of professional actors who are their own exhibition — writing musicals, choreographing dances and performing them on the museum floor with the exhibitions as their backdrops. (Check out photos of an Imaginator performance of “Tulie’s Roots.”)

“It’s guerrilla theater; it’s street theater,” says Pamela Duncan, the museum’s program manager. Actors are the bridge between objects on display and how children learn, she says. They also do outreach programs outside the museum, offering art and education where the exhibits can’t.

When Duncan was hired shortly after the museum opened six years ago, she had a long stage background, no museum experience and an order to build a theater troupe. The Imaginators are now a 12-person force that writes a new show for each traveling exhibition and leads an activity several times a day. After the museum closes, they go on to Atlanta’s more grown-up stages and film studios.

But the actors have become experts on entertaining children. Since their first show — a script that came with the “Arthur’s World” exhibition in 2005 — they’ve written their own material, growing as they understood what works for the waist-high crowd. A basic guide: giggles are good; pint-sized mutiny is bad.

“Parents say, ‘I can’t believe my child sat that long,’” said full-time Imaginator Jerry G. White, 52, who worked with the museum even before it had opened.  MORE