COCA Presents the Musical 'Swallows and Amazons' This Weekend Only
“Swallows and Amazons,” the children’s book series by English writer Arthur Ransome, features school children on lake holidays during the period between the two world wars as they engage in adventures, most of which involved sailing. While the books are classics for Englanders and are still popular today, they are not well known in the U.S. That will soon change. The first book in the series—adapted into a lively stage musical by Helen Edmundson with songs by Neil Hannon—will be presented by COCA Theatre Company for three performances only this weekend.
A musical adventure that appeals to both kids and adults, “Swallows and Amazons” tells the story of two sets of children—the Walkers and the Blacketts. During a school holiday, the Walker kids sail a dingy they have named Swallow across the lake to where the Blacketts live, who also have a dingy which they call Amazon. The Walkers pretend to be explorers while the Blacketts pretend to be pirates. They all set sail and engage in adventures of the imagination, including run-ins with savages, pirates and battles with mortal enemies. Co-directed by Shanara Gabrielle and Alec Wild, with music direction by Neal Richardson, the cast includes teen members of CTC as well as adult St. Louis actors.
The show is COCA’s inaugural production in their new series, COCA Presents, where the organization will begin to shift from simply presenting shows that others have produced, to collaborating with artists and groups and creating the shows themselves. The goal of COCA Presents is to create work that puts the imagination and creativity at its core, especially the unfiltered creativity of children. “Swallows & Amazons is a perfect example of that,” says Shawna Flanigan, the producer of the series. “COCA is interested in connecting students with very high level professionals and want to create work that engages audiences to use their imaginations.”
While it seems out of the ordinary for a show to have three directors, the threesome has worked together before in a variety of roles. “We love a rehearsal process that has lots of ideas and offers up creativity in every aspect of the work,” says director Shanara Gabrielle. “We all think that the best ideas come from many artists in the room, and that is how we make the very best, most vibrant, and fully realized theatre.”
Some of the young actors are COCA students, past or present, and all of the kids in the cast have very extensive resumes with lots of professional experience, including Broadway, national tours, and local appearances at The Rep, The MUNY, Stages, New Jewish Theatre and more.
Gabrielle, who has experience directing both student actors and professionals, sees some things that young actors do naturally that she thinks adult actors would do well to emulate, such as a certain sense of play, a belief in possibility and a total trust of the world created on the stage.
“Those qualities are paramount to the success of any actor, and kids naturally understand these skills,” Gabrielle says. “Along with those things, I find one of the most extraordinary things about working with young actors is their ability to accept critique without judgement. They understand that the theatre is a place where everyone is working toward a common goal, and they trust that critique is a necessary and positive part of that process. They long to create the best theatrical event that they can and seem never to fail in their working towards that goal. I adore working with young actors.”
“Swallows and Amazons” will be presented by COCA Saturday, Jan. 25, at 2pm and 6pm, and Sunday, Jan. 26 at 1pm. For information and tickets, visit the COCA website.