Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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24 Church Street, Box 2452, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568 | 508-696-6300

Bringing Theatre Alive for Kids

by Caroline Kaplan, Vineyard Gazette

For over 25 years children and their parents have gathered on summer mornings in the woods of Tisbury.

For what?

To dance like leprechauns, cackle like witches and fly like fairies, of course.

When a family drives up to Tashmoo Overlook they need only to follow the signs and the laughter to the Tisbury Amphitheater where every Saturday morning they will find The Fabulists running the show.

The Fabulists are a Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse group of writers and actors who blend improvisation, audience participation and written scripts into weekly performances for kids.

On a recent Saturday morning, MJ Bruder Munafo, executive and artistic director of the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, held court at the ticket table, selling T-shirts, and pushing play on the boombox at the right time. Ms. Bruder Munafo’s husband, Paul Munafo was on stage shrouded in a dark cloak. He played Dark Deidre, a forest-dwelling witch who could only be defeated by rainbows.

“We started The Fabulists in our living room in Vineyard Haven,” Mr. Munafo recalled. “Me, MJ and our friend Shelagh Hackett. We all knew some fairy tales, and we started writing more together.”

The play on this particular morning was Liam the Unlucky Leprechaun, an original written by Ms. Bruder Munafo many years ago. Kids in the audience were asked to speak in Irish accents and dance jigs. Many complied.

After The Fabulists’ morning show, many of the same actors and organizers would begin working on other shows produced by the playhouse — evening performances of The Winter’s Tale at the Tisbury Amphitheater or the main stage show at the playhouse.

With so much going on, one could understand if Ms. Bruder Munafo ever questioned adding children’s theatre to the busy summer mix. She never does.

“One of the most important things we do is being able to introduce kids to the joys of live theatre,” she said. “Starting this young, with the magic of it. It is special.”

Katherine Reid agreed. A recent college graduate, Ms. Reid is now the director of the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse kid’s summer camp. She is also an actor and writer for The Fabulists. “I grew up coming to The Fabulists and doing Summer Stars,” she said. “And now I get to pass it on? I mean, how special is that?”

Summer visitors Valerie and Brad agreed. They spent the first part of the morning with their son Hudson at the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market.

“We saw the sign as we were driving, and we see it every year, but this year I did some Googling, and it looked good,” Valeris said. “So we came.”

While munching on snacks procured at the market, Hudson sat in rapt attention.

“Mom, do you think we can go see other plays too?” he asked.

As the morning progressed, Malika and Leela Khelalfa, ages 10 and 12, watched over the ticket table.

“We’re here because we like theatre,” they said. “We’re going to the beach after this. Oh, and we’re here because she’s our grandma,” Malika said, pointing to Ms. Bruder Munafo.

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