by Glen Berger

Peabody, the Science Fair Affair

October 17 - 25
Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center Auditorium

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‘Peabody’ play designed to pique student interest in science

In the 1960s, Sam Cooke sang he “didn’t know much biology,” but in today’s world, kids are encouraged to consider science, technology, engineering and math as their pathway to future success.

Lola Kennedy and Connor Starks rehearse a scene from “Peabody, or the Science Fair Affair.” The original play will premiere Saturday at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center. Photo by Chelsea Sanders | Blueline Media Productions

Such lofty subjects can be difficult for kids, and a new play commissioned by Cardinal Stage Company seeks to show how kids how fun those topics can be.

“Peabody or the Science Fair Affair” is the story of 11-year-old Alyssa Peabody who is starting to ask lots of questions about the world around her. She finds that science may be a good way to find the answers she seeks.

A number of area teachers were invited to participate in workshops for the new play, written by Glen Berger, which will tour area schools thanks to a grant from the Duke Energy Foundation.

“I felt like after the script reading, there was a very overwhelmingly positive response to what we had just seen and heard,” said Aaron LaGrange, principal at Owen Valley Middle School. “A couple of the things that I like about it were really just beyond the material that they’ve got a nice blend of science and history.”

Lucy Fischman, principal at Binford Elementary School, said the use of local teen actors Connor Starks and Lola Kennedy is a real plus, too.

“I really appreciated the student actors. There were two kids in the play, and I just really think our students will attach to that,” Fischman said, adding that students will think it’s “cool” to see other kids as professional actors.

“They did a great job by the way,” Fischman said.

Both Fischman and LaGrange admit the play has a couple of things going for it that will help keep the attention of kids: a fast pace and humor. Fischman said the humor was “spot on” for upper elementary kids.

“They’re going to crack up and love it,” she said.

Connor Starks, Randy White and Lola Kennedy rehearse a scene from “Peabody, or the Science Fair Affair.” The upcoming Cardinal Stage Company production was commissioned by the theater company to help spark children’s interest in science.

In the play, Alyssa decides to learn more about urine, so that is the basis for some of the jokes.

“But it’s handled really well,” Fischman said. It’s funny, and it’s perfect kid humor,” she said.

LaGrange said that kids today live in a fast-paced world, and they’re conditioned to like and want that style of learning.

“Really, the way that they’ve created this play, it really bodes well to that kind of set up where they’re really coming at you with a lot of information. It’s quick. There’s a lot of different things that they’re covering,” he said.

There are adult characters in the play including a principal. Fischman said the adult roles worked well.

“The principal was perfectly written,” she said. “She’s kind of encouraging but also arbitrary.”

Connor Starks, who plays Phillip Tucker, said the kid roles are also very relatable.

“He is the official frenemy,” Starks said of his character. “All the kids in the show are someone that you wouldn’t be surprised seeing in the halls at school.”

But to make the play work, some of their actions are more heightened for the audience.

“Most people naturally have a competitive edge,” he said.

Since it is a new play, both Starks and actress Lola Kennedy are creating new characters with nothing but their own experience as students to base them on.

“It was fun creating a character because the person was someone you can see in a school,” Kennedy said.

During the workshops for the play, Starks said the actors and teachers had a chance to offer input on how someone would really react to the situations presented in the play. But upon reading the play’s first draft, Starks said he immediately loved it.

Kennedy also loved the script when she first read it.

“From the first script, I really liked it and thought it was really funny,” she said.

In fact, the play is so funny that Kennedy has a hard time keeping a straight face during rehearsals. She is particularly struck by actor Mike Price, who portrays many of the historical figures used in the play. Although Kennedy is a freshman in high school, she found the play to be very informative.

“Oh my goodness! I didn’t know half of this stuff,” she said.

The role is also very fun for Kennedy who will get to tour with the play after two weekends in the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center.

For educators, the touring production will give them an opportunity to make science interesting for kids. Fischman said kids at her school have learned about the scientific method, which is what the play is based on.

“Our kids know that, so to be able to see it in a humorous way, it’s going to be entertaining and reinforce their learning,” she said.

LaGrange said the teaching packet that comes along with the play for educators sealed the deal for him in bringing the show to his school. The play is something the children will enjoy and hopefully spark further discussion in the classroom and maybe even at home.

“I though it was a unique piece,” he said.


Mike Price, left, rehearses a scene for artistic director Randy White from Cardinal Stage Company’s upcoming production of “Peabody, or the Science Fair Affair.”