The Funnybun family puts on a happy face, but beneath the clown makeup, the family is in turmoil. Papa Willie is struggling to provide for the family. Mama Lindy is going around putting bandages on everything to cover up what’s going on. Brother Happy is goofing off, and sister Buffy doesn’t want to be a clown.
These are the characters of Pollyanna Theatre Co.’s new production, “The Funnybun Family Picnic,”which runs July 13-21 at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.
Like most families, the Funnybuns look great on the outside, but they are far from perfect. The play, for children ages 4 to 10, is told through Buffy’s eyes. She’s the truth-teller of the family, and she see things her family is trying to cover up.
The inspiration for “The Funnybun Family Picnic” is “Death of a Salesman,” says Judy Matetzschk-Campbell, the founder and artistic director of the company. She and playwright Emily Cicchini were discussing how much they love Arthur Miller’s classic, but bemoaned that they could never do it. After all, Pollyanna is a children’s theater company.
Then they took another look and thought: “What are the things about ‘Death of a Salesman’ that we love, and how can we put the drama of that into a play for a young audience?” Matetzschk-Campbell said.
Of course, it couldn’t be as dark as Miller’s original. It had to end on a hopeful note that children could handle. The core message had to become “sad things are going to happen, but we as a family are going to be OK,” Matetzschk-Campbell says.
Meanwhile, Buffy wrestles with this question: “How do you navigate loving and accepting and respecting your family, but still maintain your hopes and dreams and your sense of identity?” It’s a question children of all ages face.
Matetzschk-Campbell started Pollyanna in 2000 to pursue her passion for developing plays for young audiences. She did her graduate studies in children’s theater and her doctorate in play development. Both come together in Pollyanna, which develops four new plays a year by a variety of playwrights.
When considering plays for Pollyanna, the work has to have a character who is young or young at heart that is going through a real conflict on an emotional level, Matetzschk-Campbell says. “There has to be a point of identification. ‘That person is like me.’”
And it has to be hopeful in the end, but not too fake. “There has to be a sense that things can get better, not that everything is tied up in a pretty bow at the end and everyone is happy,” Matetzschk-Campbell says. “Children see through that. It’s not realistic. That’s not the way life works.”
All of Pollyanna’s shows are seen by the public and by schools. In the summer, day camps also attend. Pollyanna has a strategic alliance with the Long Center to bring children who go to schools nearthe center into the theater. Pollyanna partners with three — Baty, Becker and Dawson elementaries — of the seven qualifying schools to make that happen. Four to six weeks before a production, Pollyanna goes into the schools twice a week to prepare classes to see the play. It teaches them about putting a play together and the lessons the play teaches.
Pollyanna also has study guides on its website, pollyannatheatrecompany.org, for teachers and parents.
Matetzschk-Campbell wants to add a fourth school in the fall, but is looking for funding. Pollyanna is supported through ticket sales, donations and volunteer hours, and through a City of Austin cultural program.
‘The Funnybun Family Picnic’
Where: Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive
When: 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. July 13, 2 p.m. July 14 and July 21 with “Pay What You Like Party,” 9:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. July 16-19. 1 p.m. July 16. 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. July 20.
Tickets: $9.75 adults, $8.75 ages 12-18 and seniors, and $7.75 children younger than 12. $3-$5 Group rates available.
Information and tickets sales: 512-743-7966 weekday sales, 512-474-5664 weekend, pollyannatheatrecompany.org.
More upcoming family events
Children’s Day Art Park. Dancers, storytellers, magicians, clowns, mimes and art projects from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Wednesdays through July 31 (except for July 3). 50 cents a kid. Symphony Square Amphitheatre, 1101 Red River St. www.austinsymphony.org.
Texplorations Family Story Time. Games and stories at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. July 7. $9 adults, $8 students, $7 seniors and military, $6 ages 4-17. 1800 N. Congress Ave. thestoryoftexas.com.
Alamo Drafthouse’s Kid Camp: A free movie every morning at Alamo Slaughter Lane, Village and Lake Creek. Check drafthouse.com for film and times.
Cinemark Summer Movie Clubhouse. $1 movies at 10 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at Tinseltown 17; Wednesday at Hill Country Galleria; Wednesday at Cedar Park; and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Round Rock. www.cinemark.com for movie.
Regal Summer Movie Express: $1 movies at Arbor and Westgate theaters 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. www.regmovies.com.
NATY Kids Shows. Children’s music concerts every Sunday. 11 a.m. North Austin Trailer Yard, 1012 W. Anderson Lane. www.thenaty.com.
Improv theater. Sundays at 2 p.m. Flying Theater Machine. $8. The Hideout Theatre, 617 N. Congress Ave. 512-476-0473, www.hideouttheatre.com. Saturdays at 10 a.m. “What’s the Story, Steve?” for kids. Sundays at 5 p.m. for teens. Pay what you wish. ColdTowne Theater, 4803 Airport Blvd., Suite D. 512-814-8696, www.coldtownetheater.com.
Family Tours of the Blanton Museum of Art. Examine art through children’s stories for ages 4 to 7. 10:30 a.m. Thursdays and Fridays through Aug. 9. Ages 8 to 12, 11:30 a.m. Thursdays through Aug. 8. Art activities for ages 8 and older from 10 a.m. to noon every Thursday and Friday, Thursdays through Aug. 9. Blanton Museum of Art, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at Congress Avenue. 471-7324, www.blantonmuseum.org.
Austin Symphony H-E-B July 4th Concert and Fireworks. Bring a picnic to watch Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony Orchestra and then the fireworks. 8:30 p.m. concert begins, 9:30 fireworks July 4. Auditorium Shores. www.austinsymphony.org.
“Charlotte’s Web.” The beloved children’s book comes to life. 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. July 6, 13, 20, 27 and Aug. 3. 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. July 7, 14, 20, 27 and Aug. 3. Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th St. www.scottishritetheater.org.
Deep Eddy Splash Movies. Saturdays at dusk Deep Eddy Pool shows movies. “Grease,” July 6; “Hunger Games,” July 13; “Amazing Spider-Man,” July 20, “Wreck-It Ralph,” July 27; and “The Avengers,” August. 3. $1 ages 1-11, $2 ages 12-17, $3 adults, $1 seniors. 401 Deep Eddy Ave. www.deepeddy.org.
Nature Nights. 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays, but not July 4. Hands-on activities around a theme. July 11: Birds of Prey. July 18: Wildlife. July 25: Snakes.Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave. Free. 512-232-0100, www.wildflower.org.
“Little Shop of Horrors.” Zilker Summer Musical takes on the man-eating plant. Thursday-Sundays July 12-Aug. 17 at dusk (approximately 8:30 p.m.) Free, but donations welcome. Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater inside Zilker Park. www.zilker.org
Second Saturdays. AMOA-Arthouse offers hands-on family workshops. This month: Food Faces, make art out of items from the kitchen. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. July 13. $5 member families, $10 nonmember families. 3809 W. 35th St. amoa-arthouse.org.