Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Feeling Grateful in Trying Times

We at Imagination Stage feel very fortunate that the arts are well supported in the state of Maryland by Governor Martin O’Malley and the State Legislature and in Montgomery County by County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council.

On March 15, Mr. Leggett presented his recommended FY11 Operating Budget which included a 10% reduction in funding to AHCMC's budget for grants and administration. Given the state of the financial crisis and the many demands on the County's budget, we are encouraged by the Executive's recommended support and are grateful that the reduction was not more severe. As the County Council turns its attention to the budget, Council members need to hear from constituents!

Show your support by going to to "Give the Green Light to the Arts and Humanities" and ask your County Council member to approve the County Executive's 2011 appropriation.

What the cut means to Imagination Stage: a $30,000 reduction in funding in 2010-2011, which we will look to our friends to make up. Thanks for your action and support.

--Bonnie Fogel, Executive Director

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Inclusion Program Testimonial

Imagination Stage has long had a commitment to inclusion and access for children with physical and/or cognitive disabilities. In summer 2009, supported in part by a grant from the National Inclusion Project (, we provided inclusion support for 86 children so they could participate in our popular summer camps. These supports consisted of the following:
--Conducting intake meetings with students and their parent/caregiver
--Devising strategies for success
--Creating individualized inclusion summaries
--Working with staff and faculty to make adaptations to lessons and classroom environments
--Follow-up and observation of students in classes
--Modification and adjustments to inclusion supports

Below is a letter to Diane Nutting, Imagination Stage's Director of Access and Outreach, from the mother of a 14 year-old boy with Asperger Syndrome:

“Social interactions and group activities are very difficult for my son. Although enormously interested in a variety of topics…he has little opportunity to share his interests with others. He doesn’t really have friends. At Imagination Stage he got a taste of something different. At your suggestion, he took a class on a topic he know a lot about (Shakespeare), which gave him a sense of security. You provided him with a wonderful dedicated aide, who quietly guided him through any difficult situations that arose, coaching him toward more appropriate interactions…To see him play Feste in the final scene of Twelfth Night on the last day of camp, singing a song with half a dozen children dancing around him, was a dream come true. He breaks out in a grin whenever I remind him of the experience.

Saying people with disabilities are welcome is one thing, but making that commitment meaningful by putting substance behind it is another. What sets Imagination Stage apart, in my experience, is that you and your staff put so much intelligence, enthusiasm, creativity and STAFFING behind your words. From the first conversations I had with you, the questions I asked and the suggestions that were made reflected a real understanding of autism spectrum disorders and the strategies that work to support a student.”

We’ll post another parent letter next week.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jim and Carol Trawick Donate $2.5 Million to Imagination Stage!

Imagination Stage’s Board, staff and friends are celebrating the gift of $2,500,000 from Jim and Carol Trawick. This extraordinary donation, to be given over 10 years, will complete Phase One of Imagination Stage’s “Campaign to Secure the Future,” finishing payment of construction for Imagination Stage’s theatre arts center. Announcement of the gift, at the 30th Anniversary Gala on October 24, was truly a magic moment, greeted with whoops, tears and a standing ovation.

Imagination Stage Founder/Executive Director Bonnie Fogel stated that “Jim and Carol Trawick have made a magnificent gesture to the families in our community. Their gift ensures the sustainability of Imagination Stage now… and forever…. for generations to come. We are inordinately grateful.” Carol Trawick described the gift this way: “It’s all about the children! We’ve seen Imagination Stage grow over the years, following it and supporting it for at least 25 of its 30 years. And the key is that it has remained true to its mission: to bring a wonderful light to children’s lives--the arts, and all of the energy and creativity that it sparks within them. The future echoes the past: the children, the children, the children.”
Phase Two of Imagination Stage’s “Campaign to Secure the Future” is to develop an operating reserve fund, an essential component of a sustainable not-for-profit institution. Thanks to the Trawick gift, Imagination Stage begins Phase Two of the campaign with vigor, enthusiasm and, as always, ambitious plans for fulfilling our mission!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thoughts on the Kids Euro Festival

On Sunday, Oct. 25, Imagination Stage Artistic Director Janet Stanford and I joined a group of 100 or so parents and children at the French Embassy attending a puppet show presented as part of the Kids Euro Festival 2009. The show, A Twist on an Old Story: Pinocchio, ran about 30 min. and was performed by Daniele Contu, who operated 4 puppets during the show. Janet and I were pleased to note that this was not the typical telling of Pinocchio, but, as the performer explained afterward, retold as if from a teenage Pinocchio’s point of view. We were amazed to see several new characters added to this version, including the figure of Death (complete with silver sythe), the Devil and even the Pope. In this free adaptation, Pinocchio actually kills his father, then repents hysterically and finally goes to Hell to try to retrieve him. After meeting the Pope and being forgiven for his sins, the boy and his father return to earth, “reborn.” While the show was advertized for ages 6-10, there were very small children in the audience and we noted that most of the audience appeared to be a mix of nationalities. The children were completely engaged with the puppets and the storytelling and because it was very physical and comic at times, no one appeared uncomfortable or bored with the action of the play.

During the post-show discussion, we observed that the international audience did not appear to be bothered by the sight of such characters as Death or the Devil, or even by the quite brutal act of Pinocchio killing his father by beating him with a stick. The audience seemed to understand that this take on the story is totally from the artist’s perspective. It is true that in the original story, Pinocchio “kills” Gepetto by disappointing him time and time again until in the end, he reforms and does go to great lengths to save his father from the belly of the whale. While I do not think that an American audience would be so accepting of such a beloved tale taken to such extremes, we were fascinated to see that at this European festival, the audience was quite accepting of the idea. We wonder why this is?

Is it because in America, we have been so “Disneyfied” that we expect all stories for kids to be sugar coated? Do we as a culture merely expect art to affirm and reinforce what we already believe? And why are we so afraid for our children to see characters like Death or the Devil in our shows? Doesn’t going to the theatre, and having your child question what they have seen offer a great opportunity to discuss the very topics that we parents and teachers find hardest to address with our kids? How do we uncover children’s deepest fears and wildest fantasies? How do we help them to recognize that while everybody occasionally has bad thoughts, we do not have to act upon them. And a show that exposes the horror of patricide to a 6-year old may actually be a healthy way to expel that little devil that whispers in your ear when Dad says “no” to some toy or privilege that you cannot have! Could it be that a somewhat shocking show such as A Twist on an Old Story: Pinocchio offers a safety valve for young imaginations? Perhaps if Oedipus had seen this play when he was little, for example, his infamous tragedy could have been averted!

--Kathryn Chase Bryer, Associate Artistic Director, Imagination Stage

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kids Euro Fest: a Gift to the DC Community

There is a glorious, almost-new arts opportunity for children and families in the Washington metro area that I want to encourage you to take advantage of. The 27 countries of the European Union have banded together to present the second ever Kids Euro Festival 2009 beginning this weekend and playing at a variety of venues around the region until November 9. This is a tremendous gift to our already arts rich community. But there are so many reasons why you should step outside your usual box of things-to-do-with the kids to check this out. Let me count the ways!

Many European countries are noted for the tremendous artistry of the work they create for children. While the touring productions in this festival feature small casts, they are likely to astound you with their originality and inventiveness.

The festival includes theatre, puppetry, music, mime and magic but my bet is that you’ll find the lines blurring between your usual experiences of any and all of those performance categories. Imagine, for instance, a magic show that treats you to ideas as well as tricks!
You may want to track down some art that relates to your own family’s heritage
Or see an authentic Italian puppet version of an Italian classic like Pinocchio
Or try an un-title like many of these shows which are generated by artists from their own interests and ideas with complete disregard for box office appeal!

Having had the good fortune to travel to many international festivals through my work at Imagination Stage, I can promise you that the effort it takes to book your tickets on line and find some of the unfamiliar venues will be worthwhile. Of the well known titles on offer, I can recommend Little Red Riding Hood by the Patrasket Company of Denmark since I saw it there last year. The two charming performers relate the story with tremendous humor. It is a decidedly low-tech production but somehow this is also a part of the show’s charm.

Other pieces with titles unfamiliar to most Americans but that intrigue me from the brochure descriptions include:
Snufkin and Moomin from Finland
A Stitch in Time Saves Time, a play with a Sewing Machine and Paper from Germany
Hakim, the Dream Robber from The Netherlands, and
Orjan, the Eagle Afraid of Heights from Sweden

You can find the entire list and reserve seats on line at In addition to the live shows, there are several movies and interactive workshops. While I know that A Story of Bravery & Love from the Czech Republic is already booked out, as of this writing there are still seats for the two offerings at Imagination Stage:

Oct 17 at 11 AM A film for ages 4+ Folimage Cartoon Madness from France
Nov 7 at 10 AM and 11:30 AM for ages 3+ Amazing Dreams from Spain

Oh, and did I mention this is all FREE!? Well, it is! Just go, and go, and go as I plan to myself. And if I see something I think you shouldn’t miss, check this space. I plan to be writing all month.

--Janet Stanford, Artistic Director, Imagination Stage

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

To Your Child's Health!

The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia has an innovative new program to foster “children’s physical, emotional and intellectual health.” Called “Culture Shot,” and written up in the Christian Science Monitor, it provides each child who has a check-up two free tickets to the theatre as the child leaves the doctor’s office.

The premise behind this effort is that “culture fosters better health habits.” And Culture Shot accomplishes two very important aims: making clear that culture is a basic nutrient and not a luxury, and that everyone should experience theatre, regardless of family or social background. We at Imagination Stage whole-heartedly believe in this kind of holistic approach to child development and education and in universal access to the arts for children. So, even as the flu season bears down, we hope to see you at Ferdinand the Bull or at Disney’s Mulan and we wish you and your children Gesundheit.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Comment on Dana Foundation research

The Dana Foundation has researched and documented what we at Imagination Stage have known for 30 years: “that focused training in any of the arts—such as music, dance or theater—strengthens the brain’s attention system, which in turn can improve cognition more generally.” ( After 30 years in the arts education business we see daily the lived documents of success in our students – yes, some of our alums have found success on Broadway or television – but most are successful in other fields, for example, Executive Directors, Medical Doctors, University Professors, and the list goes on. On a daily basis, parents might find the effects are more subtle, but cumulatively they are monumental in both cognition and emotional understanding (the old, famed “Emotional Intelligence”). Plus, as we say a lot here at Imagination Stage, it is SERIOUS FUN!

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Monday, February 23, 2009

"Bethesda Business Cares" consortium puts together fabulous event at Imagination Stage for underserved kids!

Nine Bethesda businesses presented a pre-Valentine’s gift to 400 underserved Montgomery County children in the form of a special performance of Imagination Stage’s hit show Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth on Friday evening, February 13 at 6:30 PM. In addition to the show, the nine businesses, calling their partnership “Bethesda Business Cares,” provided bus transportation to and from the theatre, dinner, plus a chance to meet the actors and receive a souvenir of the big night out. On this wonderful evening of high spirits, the business leaders also brought their own employees and family to the performance and served dinner to the attendees.

The participating businesses were: The Jane Fairweather Team; The Gazette; Gifford’s Ice Cream & Candy Co.; Hair Cuttery; The Hollingsworth Group; Honest Tea; Lerch Early & Brewer Chartered; Maggiano’s Little Italy and Monument Bank. The children who attended came from Montgomery Department of Recreation (five different sites), the Silver Spring Boys and Girls Club, the Germantown Boys and Girls Club, The Children’s Inn at NIH and the National Center for Children and Families . One child was overheard telling a friend the show was “Zomotastic!”

Cliff Chiet, Publisher of The Gazette, Montgomery County and The Gazette of Politics & Business, said that “The Gazette decided to get involved with the Bethesda Business Cares event because The Gazette really does care about our local community and supports the positive impact that the arts can make in the life of a child. Zomo the Rabbit was the perfect story about the importance of “doing the right thing” and the value of “friendship.” Imagination Stage is a jewel in the crown of Montgomery County. One of the most important values of any community is the relationship that businesses have with helping to enhance the “culture” of the community where their employees reside.”

Jane Fairweather, one of the organizers, says that “Imagination Stage is a special gift to the Bethesda community that we want to be able to share with children everywhere.” Phil Andrews, Montgomery County Council President joined in the evening’s festivities—and was so impressed by what he saw, that he returned the next day with his family to catch a performance!

Bonnie Fogel, Imagination Stage’s Founder and Executive Director, was delighted by the partnership. “These generous business people have come together to give the gift of theatre to children who might not otherwise have the chance to experience live theatre. They are a shining example of people creatively collaborating to make a big difference in the lives of children.”

Concluded Chiet: “it sends a powerful message to the community when local businesses show they care and continue to invest in their own backyard despite an economic downturn. When the economy is strong, most businesses thrive and some take it for granted. However, when times get tough, it humbles us to appreciate what we have and causes many to look inside themselves and re-evaluate the significance of their own existence and the impact that they are making in the world around them. It is extremely rewarding to be able to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate and to create new experiences for underserved communities.”

The good cheer at Imagination Stage on February 13 was palpable, and it's hard to say who had more fun, the children or the sponsors!

--Laurie Levy-Page

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Zomo Promo

Greetings, Imagination Stage blog community! With the run of Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth in full swing, I'm hoping most of you have had a chance to view our preview/promotion video. If not, here's your chance!

As a part of the promotional video production team, it has been an absolute joy and honor to speak with such special, talented actors/directors/choreographers/stars! Creating this promotional video was no different.

Unlike past promotional videos, however, we were able to capture a number of different scenes live on stage - the energy from the cast, crew, and most importantly, the audience, gave me goosebumps...even from behind the camera!

Don't miss out on this special Winter World Premiere - there are just a couple weeks left!

Happy February,

Andrew Gordon
Marketing Associate

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Give Joy!

I'm making my New Year's resolution early this year – to give gifts that will bring my loved ones real joy and a wonderful experience, not just more stuff to clutter up their self-storage units or some landfill.

As a member of the Development Team here at Imagination Stage, I often have the pleasure of watching children with their parents, extended family or friends enjoying one of our professional shows in the Lerner Theatre, a student show in the Reeve Theatre or a 'sharing' at one of our classes. The joy and delight on their faces as they watch and as they leave the building is a daily reminder of why we do what we do at Imagination Stage. I often hear later from parents and grandparents that they had a wonderful discussion with their children on the way home, spurred by what they saw in the play or did in class.

This is 'serious fun' - children learn important ideas and concepts from our plays, and those who take our classes or summer camps learn skills as well. But they may not notice, because they're having so much fun! Parents notice, though, and as children grow up, they appreciate what they learned here as well.

We know that theatre teaches kids many skills that are useful in other endeavors in life – self-discipline, how to collaborate with peers and leaders, self-confidence, the ability to listen to one's heart and mind and express oneself clearly; you get the idea. We hear this from professional educators and politicians as well. Here is a video clip from Gov. Martin O'Malley regarding the importance of the arts in education.

The current economic challenges that the whole country is facing have already led to a cut of $75,000 from public funding sources to Imagination Stage, and we have worked very hard to reduce our expenses accordingly. Further reductions in funding may come, but we are fighting to keep all our programs in place.

We are grateful for the support of all our friends. Join them, and give joy not only to your own loved ones, but also to the children and families of the entire region!
--Barbara Rollins, Director of Annual Giving

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Not-for-profits and the Economy

As we listen to the news, we hear the word “bailout” approximately every five minutes. The banks had very bad judgment and they are receiving a bail out; the automakers came to Washington for a second time last week to request a 25 billion dollar bailout for, essentially, poor planning and bad management.

Yet our society is also dependent on the “NGOs,” the nongovernmental organizations (not-for-profits), to teach, to enlighten and to care for its citizens. So, as the economy tanks because of poor management and oversight by the government and for-profit companies, the not-for-profits that support Americans every day are being hurt in the fall out. The State of Maryland recently cut state arts funding by 15% with promises of more cuts in the future. The state cuts were across the board – education, social programs, government programs – the essential infrastructure of our society. So, where is the bailout for the not-for-profit sector? Unlike automakers, community nonprofits have no ‘fat’ to cut to balance a budget. Services or staff are the only things to go.

Not-for-profits are intertwined with every aspect of society and are pinched, proportionally, the hardest. As Teresa Eyring, Executive Director of Theatre Communications Group, points out – “when the stock market drops, institutional investments and individual investments drop – (this results in) a direct hit on the contributed income of an organization; as people watch the value of their earnings and retirement shrink, they are less likely to spend money for a theatre ticket or fundraiser. As unearned and earned income drops, institutions are hit by the credit crunch – borrowing for facility improvements or accessing lines of credit will become increasingly difficult. The inability to borrow for the short term could have serious consequences.”

At Imagination Stage, we are taking the economic downturn very seriously. We have cut our budget by 10%. We have cancelled three student productions, increased earned income offerings, and are furloughing employees while instituting a hiring freeze. We have made a commitment to be strategic and lean in our program plans for 2010 – our 30th anniversary. We have likewise re-committed to our mission – theatre and arts education programs which nurture, challenge, and empower young people of all abilities-- we will continue to find ways to serve our constituency.

Whether it’s Imagination Stage or your neighborhood arts center, please be aware – we may be smiling and our facility’s doors are still open – but behind the scenes it is a serious time with tough decisions all around. Be supportive: donate what you can; volunteer when you can; or simply be there.

By Bonnie Fogel and Brett Crawford


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