The applause was loud and the voices were even louder inside the Dothan Opera House on Tuesday after the Pied Pipers performed in front of nearly 400 Wiregrass children.
The performance, part of the TROY Tuesdays series from Troy University’s College of Communications and Fine Arts, presented a valuable opportunity for the University’s children’s theater troupe to entertain a large audience in a historic venue.
“It’s a different kind of energy and makes us have to be 10 times more on our toes,” said Payton Buchin, a senior theater education major who is one of the Pied Pipers. “We have to really focus our energy in a different way when it’s a large audience vs. a small audience. We have to change our tactics sometimes, because when there’s a lot of people, they get really loud. We have to know when to pause and regroup, and we have to know when to just keep going.”
The overwhelming joy from the audience made the show enjoyable for the performers, though it also created a challenge in terms of maintaining focus.
“It’s so very hard,” said Joseph Crawford, a junior communication arts major. “The obvious difference is the larger audience is louder. There’s definitely more being thrown to the stage than with a smaller audience. You just kind of trust the kids and the audience. This ensemble is grounded and confident, though, and we help each other.”
An ongoing tradition for the Pied Pipers is to greet the children in the theater lobby after the show.
After hugging, high-fiving and interacting with the children in Dothan Tuesday, both Crawford and Buchin reflected on the experience.
“Sometimes it’s the highlight of their year,” Buchin said. “This might be the first piece of theater they’ve ever seen, and the fact that we get to introduce them to that is exciting. They say they’ll miss us, things you don’t get from a regular audience. To them, we are like rock stars, and that’s really cool.”
Crawford remembered the impact it had on him as a child when he met the performers after a show.
“I love being on the other side now. These kids just hug you and embrace you as a person, and it’s gorgeous to see,” he said.
After nearly 50 years in operation, the Pied Pipers continue to reach new generations of youngsters.
“The stories that are familiar, these characters and themes that are timeless, I think they endure,” said Tori Lee Averett, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. “A child’s imagination is such a potent and beautiful thing. That endures. There’s nothing like seeing energetic performances. And on the other side, as a performer, when you have 400 excited kindergarteners, that energy is contagious.”