VALLEJO – The award-winning kids’ theater troupe On the Fringe Youth Theatre will perform the children’s musical “Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play!” in January at the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum.
The play, based on the popular Elephant & Piggie children's book series, is fun, silly and interactive. “If you go you’ll have a good time,” said artistic director Maria Stats.
It follows the adventures of the cautious elephant Gerald and his uninhibited best friend Piggie. The jazzy score by theatrical composer Deborah Wicks La Puma highlights the characters’ feelings in a creative collaboration with author and playwright Mo Willems. When the characters encounter three singing squirrels known as the Squirelles, it only adds to the fun. The music, dancing and silly lyrics will get even the most reserved grownups in the audience tapping their feet and singing along.
The troupe is looking forward to finally bringing this play to its intended audience – regular kids. The first performance was broadcast digitally during the COVID-19 shutdown. The second was presented to an audience of Broadway judges and other theater kids at the Junior Theater Festival in Sacramento.
On the Fringe Youth is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that provides free acting opportunities for Solano County youth. With no ticket sales for the past two years, the troupe has been in financial trouble.
Hoping to raise some funds, Stats reached out to the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum to propose a joint fundraiser for the troupe.
The $50 ticket for the special Pink Carpet opening party on Jan. 5 includes refreshments, a raffle and a goody bag. There will be a silent auction and a chance to meet the On the Fringe cast. Twenty percent of the ticket proceeds will go to the museum. The celebration will start at 5:30 p.m. and the play will start at 7 p.m.
Two regularly priced performances are scheduled for Jan. 6 and 7 at 7 p.m. General admission tickets are $20, kids 12 and under are $10, and kids under 5 are free.
Four planned performances in December were postponed because of illnesses.
The full hour-long version of the play will be performed at each event, not the 20-minute school play version. Masks will be required in the theater. Only the actors will be unmasked and they’ll be tested for COVID-19 before each performance.
On the Fringe Visual and Performing Arts was founded in 2015 by Stats and her brother Bryan Payne to fill a void in the Solano County theater scene. Many theater companies had folded, and too few of the surviving theaters were willing to risk the hard hitting indie-style shows that Stats loves. The goal of On the Fringe is to give representation to female and LGBTQIA+ voices, to include participants and players of diverse ethnicities and identities, and to create a space where the stories of marginalized groups can be told.
The duo formed On the Fringe Youth seven years ago when Stats discovered that theater opportunities for her own children were lacking. “I grew up in Vallejo at a time when theater was accessible,” Stats said. “Everybody who knows me knows that I would not be alive today if there had not been free theater education at Hogan High School.”.
Stats’ eldest daughter Molly won awards at 9 years old for her role as the narrator in On the Fringe’s second production, “The Laramie Project.” Her performance as lead in the company's third show, “The Bad Seed,” was described by the Daily Republic as “stellar.”
Molly Stats was aching to do more. But the only acting opportunity designed for youth at the time was a GVRD class that cost $250 not including costumes. With three children interested in theater this would be unaffordable for Stats.
Stats’ middle daughter Maggie has also won awards for her acting, but her speech impediment was a barrier in the beginning. “When we tried to put her in acting anyplace else, they were like, ‘so she can be tree number three’, and that irritated my spirit very deeply,” Stats said.
Stats spoke to her daughter’s friends with autism spectrum disorder and found they were also having a hard time in other theater companies. “I talked to my brother because he has his master's in special education, and I said ‘how do we make theater more accessible?’,” Stats said. He told her that he would volunteer his time to make it happen if she did too, and On The Fringe Youth was born.
On the Fringe Youth strives to be as inclusive as its parent company, offering acting opportunities to youth of all different abilities. All of the money from ticket sales and other fundraising goes back into the program to purchase rights to plays, royalties for the music, insurance, sets and costumes.
On the Fringe Youth also funds an annual trip to the three-day Junior Theater Festival in Sacramento, where the kids participate in workshops and competitions guided by Broadway professionals and master teachers from across the country.
On the Fringe Youth will have openings for new students for the first time in three years in 2023. Space is limited to about 15 kids. A link to a signup form will be posted on the groups’ website and Facebook page in January.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Mo Willems and to clarify Maria Stats title. It also has been updated with rescheduled dates after December's performances were postponed.
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THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum
- On the Fringe Visual and Performing Arts
- On the Fringe Youth Theatre
- Maria Stats
- Deborah Wicks La Puma
- Junior Theater Festival
- Bryan Payne
- Mo Willems
Gretchen Zimmermann started volunteering with Vallejo Open Studios in 2010, launched the Vallejo Arts and Entertainment website in 2014 and creates mixed media sculpture at Mare Island Art Studios.
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