'Akimba and His Magic Cow'

Aurora Kindergarten has undergone an African transformation to host its telling of "Akimba and His Magic Cow." It is a marionette folk tale, where stringed puppets take the place of actors, for a storytelling experience as visual as it is story driven. The class helped create puppets and a set for the 30-minute performance catered to young children.

The show is a group effort, headed up by one theatrically inclined family. Analuisa Witt, a local Waldorf school teacher, heads the effort. Witt was professionally trained at a puppetry school.

"I've been doing this at least six years," she said.

Joining her in the production is her husband, David Witt, as the play narrator. And behind the set, Analuisa and her daughters, Tarika and Mariana, pull all the strings. Set in a small village, the family production tells the story of a poor man named Akimba, and his quest for wealth.

"The story is about being happy with what you have," Analuisa said.

Each Saturday from now through the end of September, the group will be staging performances of Akimba at Aurora Kindergarten, located at 1610 Clark Ave. Admission is $2.50, with proceeds from several shows going toward Peace House, Ashland Hospice and Food Angels.

Amy Godard, an Ashland gallery owner, helped to coordinate the show, and brought in local musician Anneke Raphael to liven the performance with marimba and drum music. Godard said the show combines the visual appeal of puppetry with the moral lessons of a folk tale.

"The style of storytelling, with puppets, really brings the creativity out of kids where they can use their imagination more," she said.

One of the show's highlights is the voice of narrator David Witt. At once calm and powerful, he sits among the audience, reading from the script as his family brings the show to life from behind the set.

"I think the children get very deeply involved in the story," he said. "When I'm reading I can hear their breathing change during different parts. I think it's kind of a sign of how into it they get." By charging a small admission fee, they say they can help by donating to groups that work to do good around town.

"We wanted to give to the community with this performance, especially to organizations that give back to the community," Godard said.

Analuisa is eager to help local charitable organizations. But above all, she wants to be around to see a renaissance in children's storytelling. She says puppetry plays a role in that.

"I think there is a need to revive that art, the craft of telling stories. It's something that's still very alive in other cultures."

"Akimba and His Magic Cow" can be seen at Aurora Kindergarten on Saturdays at any of four showtimes: 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Performances will run through Sept. 19.

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