When children grieve

By Holly Johnson

Riverwalk Theatre and Ele's Place collaborate on 'Getting Near to Baby'

Despite its title and cast of several child actors, Riverwalk Theatre’s “Getting Near to Baby” is not a children’s show. Set in a small town in 1967, the play deals with a child’s ability to overcome tragedy through humor, wisdom and sensitivity.

Willa Jo and Little Sister, played by Grace Mary Hinkley and Oltivia Sowa, are sent to live with their stern Aunt Patty (Teresa Hurd) after a death in the family. Her strict rules and uncompassionate attitude compromise the young girls’ ability to cope with their loss until the neighborhood kids enlighten the sisters with wonders of their “cave” playhouse.

To help the young actors evoke real and powerful emotion without traumatizing them, director Tom Ferris worked with Ele’s Place, a nonprofit organization that supports grieving children and their families.

“We talked about how grief expends itself and especially how it expresses itself in children,” Ferris said. With 17 years of high school theater education under his belt, Ferris already knew a thing or two about helping young actors convey their characters effectively.

The collaboration with Ele’s Place is not merely for the actors’ benefit. Ferris hopes Ele’s Place clients will attend the play and see how others successfully deal with loss, hoping it will inspire grieving families. “Adults sometimes don’t know that children are grieving and need to grieve in order to help them heal,” he said. “It’s important to help (children) recover because then they can grow to be contributing and healthy members of society.”

Opening night for the play is free for all and includes a special 120-seat section reserved for Ele’s Place staff members and clients.

Despite the play’s solemn undertones, Ferris stresses that “Getting Near to Baby” is not a sad play, and even its most serious moments are followed by comic relief and catharsis. He offered assurances that adult and children viewers alike can expect to leave with a positive outlook on life’s most misunderstood subject.

‘Getting Near to Baby’

Riverwalk Theatre

228 Museum Drive, Lansing

Free performance 7 p.m. Thursday, July 26

Call for reservations

8 p.m. July 27-28, 2 p.m. July 29, 7 p.m. Aug. 2, 8 p.m. Aug. 3-4, 2 p.m. Aug. 5

$14 adult; $12 senior/student/military

(517) 482-5700