Award-winning play for students explores change, personal loss

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Micaela Martinez and Shelly Kurtz in “Walking the Tightrope.” Photo by Cooper Bates.

Respect for the intelligence and sophistication of students attending TPAC performances is “square one” for Sherri Leathers as she builds the annual HOT Season for Young People. That consideration, especially, came into play – along with quality and connections to curriculum – when Walking the Tightrope was selected for the 2014-15 student season.

The critically-acclaimed play by Mike Kenny tells a story about personal loss, exploring the rhythm of life changes, including the death of family members. It opens on the English seaside, where “Granddad Stan” struggles with how to tell his granddaughter that “Nanna” has died.

As the story unfolds with tenderness and humor, the two of them forge a new relationship and it’s young Esme, ultimately, who helps her grandfather to deal with his loss.

Winner of numerous awards for 24th STreet Theatre in Los Angeles, including “Best Production of 2013,” the play will be performed for students in grades three through eight in March.

“This piece is so beautifully done – sensitive, warm, thoughtful, and intelligent,” said Leathers, TPAC Education’s director of programming. “At its heart, it’s a story about change, growth and the relationship between a young girl and her grandfather. It’s interesting to me that audiences respond differently depending on their age. The young people are perfectly fine and accepting of what they see on stage. The adults are moved to tears. The adults are looking back on their lives. The children are looking forward.”

Leathers first experienced Walking the Tightrope with Roberta Ciuffo, TPAC’s executive vice president for education and outreach, in 2014 at the annual conference of International Performing Arts for Youth.

“It is a great work of art that happens to be about personal loss – something that happens to all of us. We lose people we love. That’s a part of growing up,” said Leathers. “Theatre and the arts give us a lens to look at our lives in a new way. Or they provide an easy access point for talking about subjects that may be challenging for us.”