Building a belly laugh in the Vail Valley
August 7, 2010
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado – Dozens of small, sneakered feet shuffle on the floor. Three kids in the back of the room whisper to one another. A little boy coughs. But eventually everyone is silent. Intently, each audience member leans forward in their seat ever so slightly. Eyes wide, they wait.
That’s when you know it’s working.
“There’s a time when you ‘have’ an audience,” says Brian Hall, the head funny man at the Beaver Creek Children’s Theater. “It is truly magical. You work everything you have – you build the story, vary the pace, the tempo, the volume, and then you freeze, and they are all waiting on your next move. You move a finger, they see it. You curl your lip, they see it. You raise an eyebrow in disdain, and they laugh their heads off.”
You own them. Their giggles are testament to what is essentially a theatrical home run, Hall says.
“You have them in the palm of your hands, an incredible feeling and an incredible responsibility,” he says. “You leave the stage buzzing.”
And in the 23 years that Hall’s been entertaining families, not much has changed. The same jokes still prompt giggles or belly laughs, depending on the day.
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No matter what, it all begins with a good story.
“If the story, the situation and the characters are funny, then it works,” Hall says. “And kids just want to have fun, so tell ’em a good story and they’ll be right with you.”
Every summer, the Beaver Creek Children’s Theater offers four-day workshops for kids ages 5 to 12. A group of kids gathers together to build a show from scratch, learning how to create characters, project their voices, animate their bodies and more. The last day, they star in a public performance on the Beaver Creek Plaza with members of the theater company. Each of this summer’s three planned workshops will have a different theme – “Medieval Mayhem,” “Tales From Around the World” and “Heroes and Heroines” – in case children want topartake in more than one.
Hall also runs the Beaver Creek Children’s Museum. This summer the museum will host Wahoo Wednesdays, educational and fun shows with guest presenters like puppeteers, the Denver Zoo, the Denver Butterfly Pavilion and more.
Hall has been leading the workshops for 23 years now, long enough to have seen the effects of his work come full circle. A handful of teenagers who took the workshop as young children have returned to help lead them. Sixteen-year-old Edwards resident Bailey Garton is one such example. Hall taught her father, Bart, in the mid-’80s. And when Bailey was old enough, her dad sent her to take a workshop in Beaver Creek for her first taste of improv. That was nearly 10 years ago.
“It was my first theater experience, and it got me hooked,” she says. “I’ve been doing theater ever since, and I’m planning to go to college for it, as well.
“Brian is so friendly and good with kids.He’s just kind of silly, so all the kids look up to him.”
This past winter, Bailey learned what it’s like to wrangle a roomful of giggling youngsters.
“You see the little kids, and you try to remember what was really fun so you can do it with them,” she says.
After the show, some kids inevitably want to come and hug Hall and other cast members.
“They say the funny words you used in the story back to you over and over again,” Hall says. “Parents tell me all the time, ‘Our kids are still saying “giggles” and “jellyspoons” or “hellooooooooo!”‘ from some story we did. It’s not a bad gig.”