EMU drama students create storybook video series for kids

Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) Drama and Theatre for the Young program typically stages dramatic productions in school cafeterias and auditoriums around the state. But this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has gone virtual with a new offering called the Storybook Series.

Students in the program made five videos of themselves doing dramatic readings of storybooks for elementary school-aged children, with additional educational material, available on the EMU Drama and Theatre for the Young website and YouTube channel.

A different book is featured in each installment of the weekly series, starting with "A Bad Case of Stripes" on March 12 and wrapping up April 9 with "Old Turtle and the Broken Truth." Additional material includes writing prompts and discussion questions for each book. 

All the storybook videos and accompanying materials will be available for use by teachers and parents through the end of June, says Storybook Series director Cameron Prevatte.

"Before the pandemic, the Theatre for the Young tours would reach hundreds of kids. We'd go into schools and perform for children and see their faces," Prevatte says. 

During a time when that kind of programming isn't safe, the program leaders and participants had to decide what format their annual tour would take instead. Prevatte says theater already has a reputation for not being inclusive or easily accessible, so it made more sense to offer a free video series instead of ticketed virtual programming.

EMU's youth theater program is one of only five in the country, and it's one of the smallest, but Prevatte says that means it was easier for those in the program to pivot and innovate. The students' first challenge was to find publishers who would allow their books to be used in the series, and the next was finding books with a plot.

"A lot of children's books don't necessarily have a plot. And that's fine, but if we're choosing to bring it to life instead of just reading it out loud, we wanted to … pick stories that had a purpose, and a message we wanted to tell, but not too didactic," Prevatte says. 

Prevatte says the first book, "A Bad Case of Stripes," hits that sweet spot of having a subtle message while still being pure entertainment, and with a theme that seems appropriate during a pandemic.

"It has a message, but it's hidden.  As you're reading it, it doesn't beat you over the head with the message, but it's about feeling 'othered,' feeling different. I think that's how we're all feeling right now," Prevatte says.

Another book that resonates during a pandemic is "Don't Hug Doug." While people usually think consent is about romantic and sexual relationships, consent is important even when it comes to more innocent touch like hugs, Prevatte says.

"I'm a touchy-feely person, and COVID makes me crazy," Prevatte says. "I'm really glad we did a book about consent."

More information about the Storybook Series is available here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.
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