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Child’s Play: Cardboard, Creativity, and a Lot of Laughter

Last week, my organization — The Paper Bag Players — honored Eva Moskowitz with The Susan Newhouse Award, which we give each year to an individual who has demonstrated exceptional support of our mission and vision. The Paper Bag Players is a performing arts organization founded 60 years ago by modern dancers, along with an actor and musician. The “Bags” use movement and the exuberant and creative use of simple materials to make magical musical theater (watch our 60th anniversary commemorative video to see our work!). Each year, we perform for approximately 5,000 Success Academy students.

Last week, my organization — The Paper Bag Players — honored Eva Moskowitz with The Susan Newhouse Award

At the luncheon where she accepted the award, Ms. Moskowitz gave a moving speech in which she shared her thoughts about our organization. She recalled that when first approached to found and lead Success Academy, she had asked for three things: Science every day, chess instruction for all her kids, and the opportunity for every Success Academy student to see the Paper Bag Players! I was delighted and amazed to discover the depth of her insight and understanding of what we do. Quite honestly, it is rare to find someone who “gets” the Paper Bag Players in the way that she clearly does.

I discovered that, like me, Ms. Moskowitz grew up going to the Paper Bag Players as a child. She was mesmerized by the lyricism of the performances, the humor, playfulness, and the way they connected abstraction with a concrete vision. (Her mother was so inspired by the performances that each year she made Halloween costumes out of paper bags for her daughter!).

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Ironically, when the founders first launched the Paper Bag Players in 1958, they did not intend it primarily for children. They simply wanted to celebrate the active use of imagination and the endless possibilities it created — even out of the most rudimentary materials. Everything they used in the performances — costumes, sets, and props — were made out of paper bags and cardboard. The idea was that by minimizing supporting materials, they could engage the audience’s imaginative capabilities in a way most theater did not.

It wasn’t long though before children became the Paper Bag Players’ most avid enthusiasts and target audience. Children have innate and immediate access to the kind of creative playfulness the company was seeking to capture — they can build a world out of a few empty soda cans or a couple of sticks. To this day, children respond to simple pieces of magic in our performances — a spaceship made out of cardboard, for example, or a winter coat made from paper bags — with screams of delight.

Today, our mission is still to create artistic theater of the highest quality with materials that children can easily get ahold of, so that they can be inspired in the same way that they inspire us. We want to help children develop an appreciation of the arts, but even more, we want to spark their excitement about using creative tools for fun and self-expression. With arts education always endangered in our schools, we seek to reach as many children as possible, so that they can experience theater’s benefits and delights. We are particularly committed to reaching children who have been exposed to the least in their lives: we have found that they are often the most excited and engaged by our performances.

Eva Moskowitz has been a true champion of this mission. Her appreciation of what the Paper Bag Players offer, and her conviction that every child deserves magical musical theater experiences, has allowed us to share our work with generations of Success Academy students. But beyond just Success Academy, her steadfast support has helped our organization flourish as we head into the seventh decade of our existence, allowing us to bring joy and laughter to thousands of children across the Northeast.

eva_with_pbp_boardmembers_companyLeft to right: Judi Rappoport Blitzer (board member), Audrey Reilly (Managing Director), Vicky Kuperman (Assistant), Kevin Richard Woodall (co-director, cast member), Ted Brackett (Artistic director, cast member), Eva Moskowitz, Lily Emilia Smith (cast member), John Stone (musical director, composer), Kathy Mele (former board president). Front: Judy Liss (Founding Managing Director)
Credit: Vensley Greene

Paper Bag Player Photo Credit: Gerry Goodstein

Written by John Stone October 3, 2018

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