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Children's theater should go to the children, not children to the theater.

That's the philosophy of Kim Brewster, theater chairman at Utah Valley Community College, who is taking a show on the road for the sixth year. A 50-minute version of Victor Herbert's "Babes in Toyland" will be performed 46 times in 33 schools.The cast took the play on the road Nov. 20 and their last production will be on Dec. 22. One performance will be given in the student ballroom at UVCC on Monday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

With three more performances this year, the audience will easily exceed the 21,000 students who saw the college's production last year. And that's as Brewster wants it. He realizes that traveling theater may be the only kind of live theater some of these kids see.

Since coming to UVCC from Vancouver, Wash., in 1984, he has carried on his annual tradition of a traveling children's theater, alternating musicals such as "Pinnochio" and "The Wizard of Oz" with his own original non-musical plays to give children a variety of experiences with theater. The first year, his production played 12 performances in eight schools.

Brewster believes that a touring production touches many who would otherwise not be exposed to theater, particularly in outlying areas.

This year, two casts of 60 will perform not only in Alpine, Nebo and Provo school districts, but, thanks to a $1,250 grant from the Utah Arts Council, in Tooele, Price, Riverton, Farmington and Randolph as well.

"There's a real demand for this," said Brewster, noting that 20 schools had to be turned away this year. PTA or other school organizations pay $75 for one performance ($125 for two) to cover costs of production and touring, and the kids see it for free.

With field trips being affected by budget cuts, he added, "people are really appreciative of getting these kinds of things into the schools." It is much easier and cheaper than taking students by bus to a performance elsewhere.

But what's easy for the audience isn't necessarily a simple task for the cast and crew. It's a challenge to get the show set up in 15 minutes and be able to be out of the school again just as quickly.

But the secret, said Brewster, is simple sets - in this case, three reversible flats depicting a forest, Toyland, and the outside of the old woman's shoe-style house - which all fit in the back of a pickup truck.

The staging must also be flexible enough to allow performances in any school's facilities - from a 14- by 16-foot platform to a spacious stage. Twenty-six cast members are onstage at once in "Toyland."

The cast consists mainly of UVCC students, but open auditions allow others to participate. Leads in this year's show are Mike Carrasco and Boyd Andrus, alternating as Allan; Amy Newman as Jane; Misti White and Lakeridge Junior High's Marge Lehnhart alternating as Mary (as in Quite Contrary); Spanish Fork High School student Paul Baird as Tom (the Piper's Son); Mary Jo Brown and Marjorie Shepherd alternating as the Toymaker; and DeeAnn Brewster and Nancy Gordon as the Widow Piper. Others in the cast appear as characters from nursery rhymes.

Although the schedule of three to four performances a day is grueling, the cast seems to be having a good time with the Christmas production.

Bob Manning, a student who is stage carpenter and set builder, is relishing his role as the villainous Uncle Barnaby. "I wouldn't want another part," he said. "It's melodramatic and I don't have to hold back a bit. The more they dislike me, the better!" Uncle Barnaby is "assisted" in the story by two inept henchmen, played with comic effect by Mike Corry and Jon Carter - much to the delight of children in the audience.

Misti White, a theater major who's in the traveling production for the second year, said the experience is a good one for the cast, because members learn discipline and how to work as a team. For the kids in the audience, "it's an opportunity to learn what happens in theater and to lose themselves in the story."

And as far as Brewster is concerned, that's really what children's theater is all about.