Sometimes I use this job as a means to answer my own burning questions. This is one of those times.
I called Allen Blake, 71, Defiance, to conduct a quick interview Saturday, because I needed answers... I needed him to elaborate on something for me.
Blake told me in the course of this interview that after studying vocal music at Defiance College, he became a “Seabee,” a member of the Naval Construction Battalion. Unclear on what exactly that entailed (but assuming, construction), I looked it up and learned the Navy’s construction force has a couple of mottos: “Construimus, Batuimus” or “We build, We fight,” and the unadorned “CAN DO!”
If the question was, “From where does one derive the fortitude to co-direct a play by the Young People’s Theatre Guild?” (and it was), then I may have found my answer.
Blake, as I learned during our talk, has also raised five children — three boys and two girls. So, there’s some fortitude to be derived from that too, I’d guess.
Last fall, my nine-year-old daughter took part in the guild’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof Junior,” and loved the selection of pastries at the cast party so much, she’ll be taking to the stage again this week as Frankenstein in “The Enchanted Bookshop.” She has no lines, but instead is expected to offer up an assortment of grunts. Half the work, all the pastries — a dream role.
Blake is co-directing the play with Sara Ohm, who also teaches language arts at Defiance Middle School, so I thought he might be willing to tell me how they get 25 kids to put on a whole play, when I can’t get two of them to stop hissing at each other in the backseat of the car on the way to the grocery store.
The problem, it appears, is me, because he claims the kids — elementary and middle schoolers — are a cinch to work with.
“These kids are amazing, that’s what gets me,” Blake said. “They had their lines memorized two weeks before they needed to — and some of them have quite a few lines.
“These kids, they come sit in the center of the auditorium before we start and they’re quiet as mice. Hardly any problems at all.”
Blake directed “Ransom of Red Chief” for the Young People’s Theater Guild (YPTG) last year, and — fun fact — appeared in the first musical ever put on by Defiance High School: “Brigadoon” in 1965.
In “The Enchanted Bookshop” by Todd Wallinger, storybook characters come alive at night inside the titular bookshop and ... well, I’m not exactly sure what all they do, aside from knowing one of them does some spirited grunting. Like everyone else, I’ll have to go see the show. (Well, that’s not true, “everyone else” won’t be seeing the show three nights, back-to-back!)
“There are neat little things you watch the children do to make their characters come alive, and it’s just astounding to me,” Blake said. “With all the negativity people have about children — they’re always on Facebook, that kind of thing — I think if the activity is there for them, they will do it.”
“The Enchanted Bookshop” is showing Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Stroede Center for the Arts, 319 Wayne Ave. Curtains are at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $5 at the door. These kids peeled themselves from Fortnite long enough to put on this play for us, darn it, so let’s go check it out!
As for Blake, he said as the YPTG continues to grow, he’s looking forward to directing more youth productions and — and I got excited for this — is even considering writing a sequel to “The Enchanted Bookshop.”
He didn’t make any promises, but maybe if I put it in the paper, his friends can pressure him a bit. You know what they say, “CAN DO!”