Traveling Lantern Theatre Company made Portland its home five years ago, but during that time it hasn’t often performed in the city.
The children’s theater company aims to change that, though, by putting on weekly Saturday morning shows in the lobby of Artists Repertory’s Theatre.
“We want to ground into the Portland community a little bit more,” says Traveling Lantern Managing Director KB Mercer.
Traveling Lantern was founded 30 years ago in Petaluma, California, and Mercer and her husband Doren Elias took it over 20 years later. Then five years ago, the two moved to Portland, but they continued to put on the majority of their shows outside the city. The company has teams that perform in educational spaces all over the country, most notably the New York Public Library and Yosemite National Park. But the company’s exposure in Oregon has been limited — it’s been booked mostly at venues in the state’s smaller cities.
Artists Repertory is conducting an experiment, attempting to appeal to families with young children by hosting Traveling Lantern in its lobby every Saturday morning. Tickets are $5 for everyone over 5 years old, and Artists Repertory splits the revenue with Traveling Lantern.
“We want to see more people of all ages in our facility,” says Artists Repertory managing director Sarah Horton, “and this accomplishes that.”
The format of Traveling Lantern’s shows is familiar to anyone who’s seen children’s theater: two characters, audience interaction, fanciful puppets. The plots — all original — are imaginative and provide enough winks to adult audiences to keep them from dozing off.
Mercer says shows like this are important for children, especially as arts programs are cut from schools. In the past, Traveling Lantern was frequently booked at schools, but those performances stopped as school budgets dwindled.
“We need to find other ways to provide our services to the community,” she says, “without taking away from any school funding that they desperately need.”