When Noah Putterman, director of children’s theater and education at Casa Mañana, loads up his troupe Wednesday to perform his Christmas show Here Comes Santa Claus in the atrium of Cook Children’s hospital, it might look like a typical day for someone who must wear as many hats as his job requires.
But, then again, it may not be.
“There is no typical day. I go into work with a list of things I intend to accomplish that day. But, by the end of the day, it is not at all the list I go through. I never know what is going to happen,” the 27-year-old Putterman says with a smile.
“There is a lot of deep breathing and reminding myself that this is supposed to be fun. If I am not having fun, it is going to show in the work. But I find so much joy in this that it is worth not having a life,” he says.
That’s because most Casa audiences see only the tip of the iceberg (the productions) that Putterman’s position demands. Putterman took the reins of Casa’s children’s program in August.
“My time is divided about half and half [between production and education],” he says. “If I am not directing a show, I am teaching a class. I teach five classes during the week and the rest of the time I am in preproduction for three shows at a time.
“And, of course, I also have to look after the outreach, internships, Casa Kids [the theater’s traveling company] and the apprentice program. There should probably be about five other people doing my job.”
Putterman, who grew up in Raleigh, N.C., and graduated from the University of Minnesota, had little direct experience in administration before he got the position at Casa. His previous experience with young actors had been limited to summer camps.
“I had been mostly an actor for a while,” he says. “I knew [Casa Manana president and executive producer] Wally Jones from North Carolina Theatre, where I came up through his education program. He knew I was not satisfied as an actor, that I wanted to do more. And that I loved mentoring young people. So, because he knew I had done directing, he took a big chance on me.”
So far, taking that risk has worked out well for all parties, he says.
“I did not fully appreciate the passion I had for [children’s theater] until getting fully involved here,” Putterman says. “I now feel like I could probably spend the rest of my life devoted solely to youth theater and be very, very happy.”
Keeping kids entertained
But, there have been a few surprises in the new job.
“I didn’t know, for example, that I would be writing the biggest selling show of the year,” says Putterman, referring to his current production of Here Comes Santa Claus. In children’s theater, the holiday show typically does the best at the best box office of the entire youth season.
“The hardest thing about writing a children’s script is how to keep the folks entertained who actually paid for the ticket, while also keeping the kids engaged,” Putterman says.
“So [while trying to keep the adults entertained], I am also trying to make my mind go back to my 6-year-old self and ask, ‘Would I pay attention to this?’ I have to be sure to work in plenty of silly jokes and toilet humor, and balance it with things that might sail over their heads, but not confuse them,” he says.
For his current show, which is a modern retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Putterman uses some classic rock to keep the older members of his audience interested. The show’s score features chestnuts like Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody with the lyrics altered to serve the show and the season.
But, because of the kids, all of those tunes are up-tempo.
“No ballads,” says Putterman, shaking his head like a man who knows his audience. “They hate ballads.”
Putterman says his ultimate goals may not be exactly what audiences would expect.
“I’m not necessarily looking to train future actors,” he says. “I think there are certain kids who have that hunger, but I’m not pushing that on anybody.
“What’s important to me is all the stuff you can use in life no matter what you do. When they are here, I just want the kids to feel safe to be weird.”
Here Comes Santa Claus
▪ Through Dec. 23
▪ Casa Manana Children’s Theatre
3101 W. Lancaster Ave.
▪ $20 -$41
▪ 817-332-2272; www.casamanana.org