Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Happily Ever After in HBG: Popcorn Hat Players combine traditional children’s stories, improv wackiness and some adult-sized humor, too.

Screenshot 2016-08-25 17.34.03 Screenshot 2016-08-25 17.33.54 Screenshot 2016-08-25 17.33.39 Screenshot 2016-08-25 17.33.26Going to see a children’s show without children is weird, right? Not in Harrisburg.

When thinking of a children’s theater show, it’s easy to think of the ones you went to see in middle school or have thoughts reminiscent of “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” This is not the experience that you will get at Gamut Theatre Group’s Popcorn Hat Players productions. Depending on your mindset, you may laugh more than some of the children. That’s because the Popcorn Hat Players are not only the only professional theater in the region with a dedicated children’s theater mission, but they know how to spice things up. Taking a classic children’s story, they make it their own—with original adaptations written by core company members, wonderful actor chemistry, and even a bit of improv.

The company caters to young children by telling a story that they may already know and then making it more exciting and engaging. That is not to say, however, that going to see the show is overwhelming.

At the beginning of every show, the actors come out as their real selves, talk to the audience and each other, sing a song, and let the children know what to expect. Unlike your typical theater experience, they never try to fool you into thinking that they are not the regular people in the beginning of the show. You know that they are acting, and that makes it so much more fun, and, as a result, more engaging. As a theater-goer who has seen multiple Popcorn Hat productions, almost never have I been with a child, and the Popcorn Hat Players have made me laugh every time.

This is something that Associate Artistic Director Thomas Weaver has found engaging and fun about doing Popcorn Hat Players productions—that is, when he’s not doing more serious Shakespeare shows.

“Popcorn Hat is more of an experience than it is a show,” Weaver said. “The shows are designed to be funny for the parents and grown-ups in the audience, too.”

Sometimes, parents come to the shows without their children. Sometimes, like me, they have no children and are just looking for a lighthearted afternoon.

With the mission of engaging the community in new and exciting ways, the non-profit makes it a primary focus to create shows that are completely original re-tellings of the stories we have all come to know and love. It is not uncommon at a Popcorn Hat show to hear references to the (very adult) TV show “Arrested Development,” singer Beyoncé, current events or other pop culture references, while still making the kids in the audience feel at home.

Popcorn Hat is actually where the Gamut Theatre Group was born. As a traveling children’s theater company, co-founders of Clark and Melissa Nicholson began touring their children’s shows in 1993. After more than 20 years of perfecting the skill, Popcorn Hat Players is an experience unlike any other children’s theater.

The shows, while written and adapted from a classic story by core company members like Tara Herweg-Mann, feature a great deal of personal character and improv. In the show “The Little Mermaid” (my personal favorite), Weaver, dressed as a sea witch named Debbie, exclaims—in a New Jersey accent—disdain for Avon door sales representatives, gets his cape stuck in a fan, has a conversation with a young audience member about it during the show, and still manages to tell the story in an impactful way. The actors really get freedom to have fun with the audience and enjoy the personalities they give to these classic characters.

“I’ve worked other places, and I’ve not experienced anything like it elsewhere,” Weaver said.

While maintaining professionalism and getting across the morals of the stories they tell, the Popcorn Hat Players are able to give a unique theater experience for children that also is entertaining for parents. In this way, Gamut keeps with its mission—encouraging creativity, dancing, laughing and singing in ways that benefit the entire family.

With a light-hearted approach to serious life choices and problems that children have to learn—and a platform that encourages not only seeing but engaging in live theater—it is easy to follow the Popcorn Hat Players No. 1 rule—have fun!


September Theater Events
At Harrisburg’s
Professional Downtown Theaters


TMI 3rd in the Burg Show
Sept. 16
Doors and bar open at 6:30 p.m. Performance at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are pay what you will.

Popcorn Hat Players Present
Sept. 17 to 24
Saturdays at 1 p.m.
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. available by request for groups of 20 or more

 Stage Door Series Presents
“Shakespeare in Hollywood”
Sept. 23 & 24
Doors and bar open at 6:30 p.m. Performance at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are pay what you will.



Season 31 Subscriptions
on sale now until October
$120 for 5 plays

Open Call Auditions
OSHKids Performance Company
Sept. 8 at 5:30 p.m.
Acting course for youth ages 8 and up

Acting Classes for Adults
Now enrolling
Acting Technique & Scene Study
September to November

Author: Meghan Jones


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