Barry Kornhauser, playwright and theater arts educator at Millersville, spent part of winter break in Minneapolis working with the Tony award-winning Children’s Theatre Company on his play “Balloonacy,” a recent winner of the American Alliance for Theatre & Education’s Distinguished Play Award. Opening in March, it’s a wordless theater production for pre-school children as young as 15-months.
“When you create plays for very young children, it’s helpful to cultivate visual and physical vocabularies on stage, as spoken language alone can present a barrier to understanding and appreciation,” notes Kornhauser. “Non-verbal pieces also reach out to nontraditional, underserved audiences such as deaf youngsters and immigrant populations with limited English skills.” In fact, the piece was developed working with Somali and Hmong refugee pre-schoolers and Native Americans in an Ojibwa language immersion program, and later conducted workshops for children in a school for the deaf.
Family Arts Collaborative manager for Millersville University, Kornhauser’s accolades include the Charlotte B. Chorpenning Cup honoring “a body of distinguished work by a nationally known writer of outstanding plays for children.” He has written more than 30 plays, most for young audiences, three of which have been published since he’s come to Millersville: “Bert & Ernie, Goodnight!” “A Christmas Carol” and “A Child’s Garden of Verses.”
“Bert & Ernie, Goodnight!” was commissioned and produced by the Children’s Theatre Company by special arrangements with the Sesame Workshop and VEE Corp. “It’s the first time the iconic Sesame Street Muppet characters have been depicted as real-life people,” said Kornhauser. “Instead of puppets living in a human world, we get to know Bert and Ernie as humans living in a puppet world.”
“A Christmas Carol,” a musical adaptation of the Dickens’ classic, was written with composer Ron Barnett and was commissioned and first produced by the Fulton Theatre, but has since been performed from Hershey to Honolulu.
Kornhauser’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses” is a piece for very young audiences commissioned and first produced by another Tony-honored stage, the Alliance Theater in Atlanta. Kornhauser remains reluctant to have his plays published. “I never feel that they’re fully finished. I always see something in the text that could use improvement, and for all of its practical benefits, publication has the unfortunate aspect of incising a play’s words in granite.”
Right now, Kornhauser is also working on a stage adaptation of author Jane Yolen’s award-winning novel “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” which will premiere in Pittsburgh in May. Before its official opening, however, Millersville’s Tony Elliot will direct MU students in a reading at the upcoming 33rd national Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide on campus on April 2-4, 2014.
When he’s not writing plays, you can find Kornhauser busy with Fam Fun Fest days at the Winter and Ware Centers, helping to develop MU disability arts programming, directing the M-Uth Theatre program, working with the social work department at Millersville on anti-bullying programs and with IU-13 school districts and various social service agencies on many other projects.
For information about the Children’s Theatre Company, visit http://www.childrenstheatre.org/. For Balloonacy information, visit http://www.childrenstheatre.org/plays/2013-2014-season/balloonacy.