BY KATHLEEN DOANE for Cincinnati Magazine
Associate Artistic Director Eric Byrd does double duty as director and choreographer for Annie JR. Byrd fell in love with theatre at age 7 when he attended his first live performance, Jack and the Beanstalk, at The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. He explains why Annie JR. is the perfect show for everyone.
Q: Why is the story of Annie, an orphan during The Depression, still so meaningful to audiences?
A: I think it’s her optimism. Annie has a hard-knock life, but she finds the silver lining in every situation despite her circumstances. When she meets Rooster and Lily, who claim to be her parents, she gives them a chance even though Grace and Daddy Warbucks don’t believe them. She even invites Miss Hannigan, who has been so mean to her, to the Christmas party at Daddy Warbucks’s house. She’s so forgiving and resilient. I think that resonates with all children and adults.
Q: Is there a particular moment that captures Annie’s optimism and spunk?
A: When we get to the big anthem, “Tomorrow.” Everyone knows it and gets the message: “Things might not be good today, but there’s always tomorrow.” It’s a simple lyric and melody but powerful. Audiences always sing along.
Q: The performance on March 8 at 11 a.m. will be a sensory-friendly performance as part of TCT’s commitment to “theatre for all,” especially those on the autism spectrum. How will you change the show?
A: We’ll take the volume of the sound down and keep the house lights at 30 percent. When people buy their tickets, we provide a full show narrative to let everyone know what to expect from the moment they arrive at the theater. It is often someone’s first theater experience, so we work closely with Dr. Jennifer D. Smith, Director of the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to prepare the cast for things that might happen during a performance, say if there is laughter or sounds of excitement in unexpected places. The main thing we want to create is a judgment-free zone for this audience. If someone needs to get up and leave, they can step out for some quiet time. We will have trained volunteers in the lobby who will have activities for them or just talk with them, and they are free to come back in at anytime.
Q: Why was Annie JR. chosen for a sensory- friendly public performance?
A: Because of its universal appeal. It’s also very easy for a family to prepare for the performance. They can look up the comic strip or watch the movie. [There are two film versions.] They can see the story beforehand so there won’t be any surprises. They can also check out our resources at thechildrenstheatre.com.
Q: What kind of feedback do you get from parents at the sensory-friendly performances?
A: Patrons are so appreciative we are hosting an event where they and their children feel included. We always get many thanks from the children and adults at our performances for providing a memorable experience for the whole family or, as we say, for children from 4 to 104.
Find out about all other showtimes, ticket prices, and more for Annie JR. Feb. 29-Mar. 9 at the Taft Theatre.