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Charlotte Babies Get Live Theater Just For Them

Children watching "Psshh" at Children's Theatre. Photo: Julie Rose
Julie Rose
Children watching "Psshh" at Children's Theatre. Photo: Julie Rose

Children's Theatre of Charlotte has long offered plays for teens, "tweens" and kindergarteners, but until now, the "under-three" set had to sit out live theater.

There's a reason parents are typically encouraged to leave the littlest ones at home, says Andrea Bruno. Her son Liam is two-and-a-half.

"Yeah, at his age, it's kinda tough, I mean they're very active," says Bruno, with a chuckle. "They don't want to sit still. So, yeah. Sometimes it's not always a good idea."

Fair to say Bruno's a little wary that Liam will make it through his first live theater show.

He does know the name of the show.

"Psshh," says Liam. "It's water."

Water is the theme of the "Psshh." It's the creation of husband and wife team Mark and Meredith Sutton. They specialize in plays for babies.

Brandy Stigliano with her 17-month-old daughter Ella. Photo: Julie Rose
Credit Julie Rose
Brandy Stigliano with her 17-month-old daughter Ella.

So how do you hold the interest of a toddler in a dark theater? Keep it under an hour, for one thing.
"Look, she can't sit still," says Brandy Stigliano, nodding toward her 17-month-old daughter Ella. "Fifty minutes is gonna be a stretch for 17 months. We'll see. I mean this is something that's meant for her. There's not a lot that's meant for someone that young."

Which is one reason that even at $12 a ticket, the first few performances of "Psshh" at Children's Theatre of Charlotte this week have been filled to capacity: moms, dads, nannies and their wiggling wards.

They perch on pillows at the edge of the stage. The set is simple, colorful and importantly - notes Meredith Sutton - nailed down.

"So in case we get a toddler up there who decides to join the show, there's not any chance of anything going terribly," says Sutton.

There's a flowing river of blue fabric brought alive by fluttering hands and sound effects.
There's a cardboard boat adrift on the sea.
A spray-bottle powered rain storm that mists the children in the audience.
A brilliant yellow sun to dry the stage.

There isn't much talking in the show.

Mark Sutton says he and Meredith start with some basic ideas and develop the details as they play with simple props in rehearsal.

They'll often try out the concepts on the youngest of their eight kids: "Hey, what if we crawl inside these big fabric tubes like caterpillars and dance around?"

Sutton says he wasn't too sure if the caterpillar dance would go over well with the kids, but it's turned out to be a real crowd pleaser.

Meredith and Mark Sutton, the play's creators. Photo: Julie Rose
Credit Julie Rose
Meredith and Mark Sutton, the play's creators.

The show ends with just a smile from the Suttons and a welcoming hand gesture. No lights out. No curtain call.

"We're not asking for applause at the end," says Mark Sutton. "We want them to just blend right in to playing themselves."

Sit in the cardboard boat. Puff on the pinwheel. Spritz yourself with some spray-bottle rain.

Fifty minutes was no problem for 17-month-old Ella Stigliano.

"She was entranced," says Ella's mom Brandy. "It was great."

On the way out the door, two-and-a-half year old Liam Bruno sidles shyly past Meredith Sutton and softly thanks her.

"Say 'We loved it,'" prompts his mom Andrea.

"We loved it," Liam beams. "Psshh, psshh!"

"Psshh!" Runs through August 23 at Children's Theatre of Charlotte.