Two Childsplay actors reflect on four decades of treading the boards.
You’ve seen them – and so have your children – on stages both great and small. They’ve played, as the saying goes, everything from giants to children, in The Yellow Boat and The Velveteen Rabbit and The Pillowman. Debra K. Stevens and Jon Gentry are each celebrating 40 years with Childsplay, the professional children’s theater where they’ve been resident artists since 1982.
“It’s our 40th season, but Jon claims one more show than I,” Stevens says of the job that finds the pair presenting new versions of classic fairy tales as well as original plays relevant to kids today.
“We call it blue-collar acting,” she continues, “because you create your character and you shlep your own stuff and you do 250 shows in a year. There’s a work ethic and there’s learning to keep the work fresh, and –”
“– we get to work in every style of theater,” Gentry interrupts. “Musicals, big productions, smaller stories –”
“Shakespeare!” Stevens interjects.
Both actors are proud of how Childsplay has changed with the times.
“We’ re doing a good job of making choices that are more inclusive,” Stevens says of the company, which this season will present shows like the Tejano-centric Selena Maria Sings and The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen, set in Harlem. “We want audiences to see themselves and their stories represented, but in a mindful way, not in a way where we’re just checking boxes.”
Neither thinks staying put has led to missed opportunities.
“I’ve stayed because I wanted to act for a living, every day,” Gentry says. “I’ve felt challenged and valued and never had to hustle or spend a year between shows, wondering if I’d ever get cast again.”
“It’s a gratifying journey for any artist,” Stevens says. “I get to walk in the door every day and create something with this great group of people, and that’s my job.”