TheatreWorks' upcoming Oskar show opens its doors to entire community

Courtesy of Tracy Martin
Jon Deline plays the title role in “Oskar and the Last Straw,” a TheatreWorks production aimed at helping students cope with stress from activity and academic overload.

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley's “Oskar” tour – featuring live school assemblies for students in grades K-5 – is set to premiere 2 p.m. March 31 at the Lohman Theatre at Foothill College. For the first time, the performance will be open to all local residents.

The Foothill production is the only one on the tour open to the general public – the other performances will take place at schools.

Amy Cole-Farrell, director of education at the nonprofit TheatreWorks, said parents who would like to see the play with their children or students whose schools are not included on this year’s tour may attend the show.

The “Oskar” tour typically offers two different shows per stop, with plots addressing K-5 students’ issues, according to Cole-Farrell.

“We work closely with the Palo Alto Unified School District and other educational organizations to respond to current concerns,” she said.

For instance, the latest “Oskar” production, “Oskar and the Countless Costume Changes,” was written in 2016 to address sensitivity and understanding of gender expression, Cole-Farrell said.

The first “Oskar” tour in 2009 featured “Oskar and the Big Bully Battle,” TheatreWorks’ collaboration with the Palo Alto Unified School District. The district asked TheatreWorks to develop a project that took on concerns over bullying.

In 2011, TheatreWorks produced “Oskar and the Last Straw” with input from educational nonprofit organizations such as Project Cornerstone, Steps to Success and Project Safety Net to give students tools to handle stress from activity and academic overload.

“Educators agree that if kids learn how to identify stressors and self-adjust in early ages, they are much better able to respond and adapt in later years,” Cole-Farrell said.

She noted that the goal of “Oskar and the Last Straw” is to help children understand and manage stress beginning in the elementary grades so that when they reach their middle and high school years, the tools are integrated into their coping strategies.

Oskar, the protagonist of the series, was created for an early TheatreWorks school touring production, “Oskar: The Kid That Could,” prior to the launch of the “Oskar” tour. Oskar continues to star in all of TheatreWorks’ K-5 educational productions, a character children can identify with – a 10-year-old struggling with the same challenges they might face.

“It gives us a way to introduce topics like bullying and stress without being preachy, letting students see how a likable, funny kid can be confronted by issues and sort out solutions,” Cole-Farrell said, adding that many school officials have reported that after seeing the shows, both kids and teachers will start employing the phrase “What would Oskar do?” when they face a social or emotional dilemma.

“To me, there is no better endorsement for the power of theater and the impact of these assemblies than that,” she said.

Each school that books an Oskar assembly receives a comprehensive study guide for use in the classroom before and after the performance with activities and resources addressing the various topics presented in the plays.

After each performance, the actors host a “talk back” session with students to discuss the themes in the play, as well as give them the opportunity to ask questions.

Lohman Theatre is located at 12345 S. El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills. Admission is free.

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