DAVENPORT — Bettendorf native Ashley Becher knows the value that children's theater can offer everyone involved, and she and her husband, Bobby, are having a blast bringing the latest Davenport Junior Theatre show to life.
Ashley, 34, is directing “Aesop’s Falables: A Rock Musical” on the mainstage at DJT, and Bobby is serving as sound designer and music director. The show will open Saturday, Feb. 16.
“It has been wonderful to work with the DJT kids,” Ashley said Wednesday. “They are incredible and inspiring. We have become better people through this process.”
“Working with DJT has been such a pleasant surprise for me,” Bobby said. “I have been consistently blown away by the professionalism and quality of the program.”
The wife-and-husband duo are creators and owners of the New York-based production company WhatFun! Theatre, founded in 2014 to produce theater for youth that's smart, approachable, artistic and fun. Ashley and Bobby met in 2012 while touring South Korea, performing and leading workshops for youths and families.
“I think it's an art form that doesn't get enough attention,” Ashley said of children's theater. “It doesn't get as much respect as it deserves. Kids are so much smarter than we give them credit for. We really found that a lot of the shows talk down to kids. ... They're kind of condescending or too simple. We wanted to do shows that were fun and entertaining, also quality parts.”
Ashley, a 2003 Bettendorf High School alumna who has performed in Quad-City Music Guild and Countryside Community Theatre shows, moved back to the Quad-Cities last May to teach dance and theater at DJT. Bobby made the move this winter to teach at DJT, which serves students age 3-18.
“Aesop’s Falables” involves over 40 students, ages 9-18, from nine area cities and towns, and they're filling the roles of actors, crew members, tech-board operators and front-of-house team members. Professional theater artists like the Bechers work alongside the kids, training them in theatrical production.
“It's wonderful that kids get to do all the different aspects, great to get that experience,” Ashley said. “The show is not just being on stage, but creating. The kids are so dedicated to what they do, so happy to be here. The work has been really inspiring to us.”
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“It has been a unique and special process,” Daniel Sheridan, DJT artistic director, said. “Our students are excited to share their hard work.”
“Typically, only people who are truly based locally direct (shows at DJT); rarely do we have people leading productions from out of town, and active as professional performers,” he said of the couple. “It's really great for the kids. They have somebody really current, who really understands. It's good for us, too, as a program to get a fresh perspective.”
A graduate of Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wis., Ashley worked as an actor and educator at Gyeonggi English Village (now English Musicals Korea) for three years. “It was the best decision I could have ever made,” she said. “Leaving New York, leaving the grind, it just changed everything about my life — the way I viewed myself, the way I viewed art.”
“In America, I feel like we are all about climbing the ladder of success, now to the next achievement,” she said. “In taking time to go to Asia, the Eastern cultures, they really value rest.”
WhatFun! Theatre, which stages shows around the country, seeks to offer “not only a quality product, but a quality experience, bringing our positivity, can-do attitudes, open minds and hearts, and spirit of blissful collaboration to every process,” according to abbecher.com/whatfuntheatre.
“Aesop’s Falables” is a musical version of fables from the great storyteller Aesop, last done at DJT in 2009. Sir Wilfred Wolf, who claims he has been wrongfully penned by Aesop as the bad guy, undertakes a plot to overturn other fables and reveal his truth.
“The show is silly and goofy, but has such a big heart,” Ashley said. “Audiences will learn the value of words and the impact they have on yourself and others. The show teaches us that we don’t have to let the things people have called us in the past define who we are. We can create our own identity.”
“It has a really important message about kindness, how we treat each other,” she said. “How you treat another person directly affects them.”
Next month, the Bechers will work at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Florida, and they will be back in the Quad-Cities this summer to perform in the musical “Holiday Inn” at Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island.