Hidden Brooklyn theater worth effort to discover

Learn why families with young children who discover Brooklyn Bay’s “Play after Play” sessions return again and again ‚Ķ

Kri Schlafer, Marc Otto, and Melanya Helene perform the short play, “The Most Wonderful Gift” at the Brooklyn Bay Performance Space.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The theater’s name, “Brooklyn Bay Performance Space”, conjures up images of a playhouse on the waterfront. It isn’t. The “bay” refers to an industrial work space, not a body of water.

And, some say the location – due south of the SE 17th Avenue flyover Powell Boulevard, at the end of a dead-end street in the Inner Southeast Brooklyn neighborhood – is nearly impossible to find.

But, week after week, parents of young children make their way through the industrial area to participate in a delightful, one-of-a-kind form of family entertainment.

Founder and artistic director Melanya Helene and her crew have transformed an industrial storage unit into a warm, intimate theater space.

When we visited Brooklyn Bay Performance Space on December 2, families were coming in to experience a session of “Play after Play”, featuring the story, “The Most Wonderful Gift”.

First, the play
“We start with a 20-minute performance,” Helene told us, “usually based on a folk tale. Our story, throughout December, came to us from the Middle East. Our method is kelmanworks, a performance style based on mindfulness and engagement with the audience.”

The lights dimmed, and the costumed players took the stage. The actors immediately engaged their audience members, particularly the children. The story of “The Most Wonderful Gift” was expressively told, enhanced with music and movement.

“We keep the play simple so the children can use their imagination to enter into the story with us,” Helene later said.

Engaging in “Original Play” the Brooklyn Bay actors interact directly with their young audience members.

Then, playtime
After the performance, the actors changed out of their costumes and set up large, clean gym mats. The kids and parents were instructed to sit around the perimeter of the mats.

“We play with the kids in a form called ‘Original Play’. It is based on non-violence and non-competition.” Helene developed this form of play, based on what she said she learned from Fred Donaldson.

Original Play looks like lively, energetic fun. But it isn’t a free-for-all. Children are invited onto the mats by the actors. The “playing” is free-form, physical (to the abilities of the child), and active ‚Äì yet, at the same time, done with an unspoken sense of discipline. “Actually, it is partially based on some forms of martial arts. But it is play, not competition,” Helene explained. “In a global sense, everything we do is about–in a word–peace.”

“The ‘play’ after our performance is a practice for us,” related Helene. “It allows us to be directly involved with them. We’re not behind a TV screen. We’re right there, and they interact with us.”

Worth the effort to find
“Play after Play” at Brooklyn Bay starts at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings. We won’t attempt to give you directions! Call to make a reservation, and they’ll show you the way. Contact them at (503) 772-4005 or see www.brooklynbay.org.

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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