The play, an original composition, is a whimsical but thought-provoking story of a boy who turns himself into a tree in hopes of escaping the troubles of the world and the miseries and hardships of caring for others.
As a tree, he winds up protecting others with his branches and eventually realizes that in caring for others, true happiness and contentment is found. The story is told in a series of stories based on Latin folktales, and according to Park Theater spokesperson Meriam Lobel, is recommended for all ages, young and old.
The performance is a cooperative effort between telecommunications company AT&T, The New Jersey Theater Alliance, The Pushcart Players, a Verona-based professional theater company and the Park Performing Arts Center.
AT&T has been instrumental in presenting statewide stage productions for the past seven years through their "Family Week" program.
"This program is conducted in all 21 New Jersey counties," said AT&T Assistant Director of Cultural Affairs Althea Yancy. "This is part of AT&T's commitment to giving back to the community. We have a coordinated program that has three components: education, arts and culture and community. AT&T has always supported the performing arts."
Continued Yancy, "This program encompasses many of the major theaters throughout the state. It gives folks who otherwise might not visit the theater the chance to experience a live performance."
According to Yancy, 2003's "Family Week" performances drew over 18,000 people statewide. This is a big number considering that many of the state's smaller theaters seat 500 to 1,000 people.
The Park Performing Arts Center in Union City has rapidly become a force to be reckoned within the state. The Park Performing Arts Center has presented a wide range of live performances over the years including professional drama, musicals, opera, community theatre groups, dance companies, orchestras, jazz musicians, and folk musicians and dancers. Well-known musicians Paquito D'Rivera, The Clancy Brothers, Johnny Cash and Maynard Ferguson have all played at the theater.
And according to Meriam Lobel, the upcoming performance of Cuentos del Arbol is another example of the theater reaching out to the community and attempting to bring the performing arts to a population that otherwise might not ever get the chance to see a live acted performance.
"We are honored and delighted to be part of the Family Week program," said Lobel in a recent interview. "It's a wonderful opportunity to welcome the diverse families of Hudson County into the theater."
A major component of the upcoming performance is that it is presented in a bilingual manner, which is very important in an area like North Hudson, which boasts the second-highest Latino population in the country, right behind Miami, Florida.
"It's so important that they [The Pushcart Players] are bringing a bilingual component to the performance," continued Lobel. "It crosses generations. Many children as well as their families have never been to a live theater performance. They're so used to watching TV or playing video games."
Write their own
The people who are actually write the plays and put on the performances are collectively known as The Pushcart Players, a performance company that is comprised of professional actors whose aim is the same as the Park Theater's - to make sure folks get to see live theater.
According to Pushcart Players Executive and Artistic Director Ruth Fost, the Pushcart Players have a 30-year history of bringing the live performance experience to children and their relatives throughout the world.
"I am certain that exposing kids to the performing arts has a large effect on the other facets of their lives," said Fost. "We do somewhere between 300 and 400 performances each year and we do mostly K-8 with occasional high school audiences. We like to think that the performances cause the kids to think as well as having a good time."
Added Fost, "A lot of this [especially plays that highlight history] has to do with my kids sitting at the dining room table slumped over their history books saying, 'This is so boring.' " I would always say 'How could you say that?' but then I realized that history and stories might seem boring on the two dimensional page. What our performances do is bring history and education alive for the kids."
And while Cuentos del Arbol isn't based on any specific historical perspective, it does, according to Fost, teach a simple lesson.
"Of all our plays," said Fost, "this one is about the joy and color of stories. I interviewed many people of Latino origin and found that there are so many folk stories that they remembered fondly from childhood."
While the performances are free of charge, reservations are necessary. For more information on the upcoming March 6, 2004 performance, the Park Theater is requesting that interested parties call (201) 865-6980, extension 20.