If you go

What: "Animal Farm" Writing/Acting Workshop

When: 4:15 p.m. Thursdays, April 18-June 20, rehearsals in August, performances in September

Where: CenterStage Theatre Company, 901 Front St., Louisville, performances at the Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder

Cost: $550

More info: centerstagetheatrecompany.org/classes.html

While the glow of screens remains an enticing lure and time-suck for children, and most adults, Lyons author Mathew Klickstein is committed to getting local youth off of the continuous smartphone scroll and onto a track of inventiveness, fueled by the art of creating.

The California-born creative has launched a program that will provide youth with an outlet for healthy self-expression through a workshop where participants write and perform their own theatrical script, influenced by George Orwell's "Animal Farm."

"It's not 'Oklahoma.' It's not 'Music Man.' It's not 'Avenue Q'," said Klickstein, who ran a similar project in the town of Lawrence, Kansas, with an all-female cast that performed a highly personalized rendition of "Lord of the Flies."


"Kids get to do their own thing, based on their own lives," he said.

The "Animal Farm" workshop that kicks off April 18 at Louisville's CenterStage, will have all the magic and synergy of a bustling writers' room. Brainstorming will commence, ideas will be shared and jotted down on a white board in this unique project for youth ranging from 8-14 years old. As a filmmaker, comic book writer and pop-culture historian, Klickstein has much experience collaborating with industry greats. He said it's his hope that workshop attendees will leave each session feeling inspired and confident in their ability to create their own theatrical offering.

"At the end of the day, I want to let go of the reins and leave as much of the project up to the kids," said Klickstein. "Not only are we a performance group, but we are also a discussion group. It's so important for kids and it's rare that they have an opportunity to do this sort of thing and then put their creative expression out in the community. We will talk about what's going on in the world, their fears, their aspirations, their daily lives."

On Thursday evenings, from 4:15-6:15 p.m., participants will revel in improv, creative play and work to reimagine the novel in a way that reflects their own personality and narrative.

"I'm excited to see how it all comes together," said Klickstein. "It's very engaging for me. I feel like I'm a bit of a Margaret Mead character. It's anthropological. More than anything, I want this to be about the kids and their experiences."

Fostering childhood creativity

Adolescence and childhood were special times for this goal-crusher who seems to harness the same enthusiasm for new ventures he did all those years ago. In high school, he was a bit of an overachiever — forming numerous clubs, producing his school's weekly newspaper, working on yearbook, maintaining a high grade-point average and even helping local politicians with their campaigns and volunteering at the ACLU. Like his high school days, Klickstein stays busy with a multitude of creative projects.

In 2013 his book "SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon's Golden Age" was released to the delight of critics, child actors and anyone who lived for the fashion-forward female protagonist in "Clarissa Explains It All" and those who still grin at the first notes of the grunge-heavy theme song to "The Adventures of Pete & Pete." The artistry and eccentricity found in those '90s shows, on a network for kids, left a lasting impact on Klickstein, who wrote a page-turning tell-all that provides the backstory to these shows.

While he has experienced success in TV and film, Klickstein has somehow escaped the shackles of social media and remains without accounts of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. He reduces the temptation to glance at his iPhone by changing its display to grayscale — a tactic that is said to curb one's need to constantly engage with the device.

"I get disappointed and saddened when I'm on a subway, a plane or in a coffee shop and I just don't see that many books being read," said Klickstein.

At 13, he penned his first novel — a sci-fi thriller that he later adapted into a screenplay.

"I'd like to be able to have some small impact," said Klickstein. "If a kid that's 8 or 9 becomes a filmmaker or playwright, that would be such a privilege for me to know. Things like writing and engaging with literature helps them on a creative level and a mental level."

Jeanie Balch, executive artistic director of CenterStage, said the company has wanted to offer a program of devised work, so connecting with Klickstein on his youth workshop project was a thrill.

"When we put on a play or musical, our actors get to try on the dialogue and thoughts of a character from the playwright's imagination and point of view," Balch said. "In this process, they will have the agency behind that character and voice."

The upcoming workshop costs $550 per child. However, those who wish to see how the initial sessions go can pay half up front and then the rest if they decide to stay on board. Klickstein fully understands some parents may not be able to afford that fee and hopes support from local organizations will help with funding. Bringing in collaborators for sponsorship would allow kids who wouldn't normally have the opportunity to participate in a project of this magnitude to do so.

"I think participants will gain a better knowledge of the uniquely collaborative nature of theater," said Balch. "It takes contributions from so many people to make it work. They'll get to see the process all the way from the tiny kernel of a shared idea to its reality in front of an audience. That's exciting. I hope they will also get to understand the iterative nature of theater and life. Sometimes you just need to throw something out there and see if it takes off, but it is OK if it doesn't. There are other good ideas that may take root from having given the first one a brief life. It's OK to work hard and start over to get it the way you want it."

The workshops will continue through June 20, with rehearsals beginning in August and final performances at CenterStage and the Dairy Arts Center in September.

"I plan to really let the kids do the heavy lifting," said Klickstein. "They come up with ideas that I couldn't write on my own."

Kalene McCort: 303-473-1107, kmccort@dailycamera.com