To make theater come fully alive for families, the experience of a show ideally extends beyond the walls of the Rose, Omaha’s popular children’s theater.
That’s the philosophy behind InSight, a new Rose Theater program launched just in time for “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical,” which opens the new season Friday.
InSight is designed to build anticipation for each show while also getting families to talk about those shows around the dinner table, said Matt Gutschick, the Rose’s artistic director.
“Each show has a conversation it wants to have with the audience,” Gutschick said. InSight’s preshow and post-show activities, tailored to the message of each show, zero in on getting the chatter flowing, before and after the curtain.
“Knuffle Bunny” is about a toddler who speaks only gibberish. Her mom usually understands her. But when Dad takes over child care for a day, disaster ensues. During a trip to the laundromat, the little girl’s favorite toy is lost.
In the Rose’s lobby before all performances of “Knuffle Bunny,” a video will ask parents and children what they would never want to lose. In the video, some parents and kids interviewed ahead of time (some of them in a laundromat) give answers as varied as “my (dental) retainer” and “my dog” and “my brain.”
After patrons have had time to think about that, the cast will lead a post-show discussion from the stage, following up on the question and engaging the audience.
To build anticipation for the show, the Rose’s Facebook page has been posting photos taken around the metro area with Knuffle Bunny in them. Children are asked to guess where in the city the photos were taken. The goal is to get kids to look at their community with fresh eyes while also talking with parents about the photos — and “Knuffle Bunny.”
A recent study of theater’s impact on audiences in the San Francisco Bay area indicated that getting audiences involved raises their levels of anticipation for a show, as does building familiarity with the play’s story.
Those who knew more about the show going in reported a higher level of insight and learning afterward. And engaging audiences just after the show about what they were feeling also added impact to the experience.
InSight activities throughout the season will include collecting canned goods for “Robin Hood,” drawing a comic strip for “Big Nate,” making a community art project map for “Narnia” and exhibiting Jackie Robinson baseball artifacts for “Jackie and Me.”
Gutschick said aiming for a more meaningful experience of each play could build audience loyalty for the Rose.
“We hope people have an experience so exceptional that when they get their membership renewal letter, it will be automatic to renew it,” he said.