The 1970s funk band War once asked in song, “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” (Repeat that three more times to get the ear worm).
That question is also posed in the 2013 children’s book “Nugget & Fang.” Author Tammi Sauer takes readers on a 45-page deep sea dive into the ocean where Nugget, a minnow, and Fang, a shark, are best buddies. Things are going just swimmingly in their bromance until Nugget heads to school where he learns minnows are supposed to be afraid of sharks. Determined to keep his friendship, Fang resorts to desperate and comical measures; yet the sharp-toothed predator may become the tiny student’s savior after becoming trapped in a large fishing net.
ArtsPower, a national touring children’s theater company based in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, looks at school and library book lists every year to see what youngsters are reading, to learn what audiences might want to see on stage. They aim to have audience members that either know the book and are excited to see it come to life on stage or will want to pick up a copy after seeing the show.
The nonprofit turned another book of Sauer’s, “Chicken Dance,” into a stage production in 2015. Greg Gunning, ArtsPower’s artistic director and resident playwright, thought adapting “Nugget & Fang” “was kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “This book has really taken off on a lot of school book reading lists. …One of the things we like to do is to tie our shows in with reading. We want to get them excited about reading a book like ‘Nugget & Fang,’ which is a great, great book.”
Gunning set to work, putting together the screenplay and writing more than a half-dozen songs for the hour-long production, including two or three featuring choreography. Rehearsals began Dec. 29 in Manhattan running for 10 days before the show packed up and headed out on the road.
One of their first performances will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, at Montgomery College’s Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center in Rockville. The Rockville performing arts center, a regular stop on their annual tours, will host the group’s only public show in the area before moving on to dates Elmira, New York; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Vermont and Connecticut.
The company, featuring four professional actors for this show, presents public shows on the weekends and performances at schools during weekdays. Founded in 1985, ArtsPower has created and premiered more than 30 musicals and dramas inspired by books directed at early readers to young teens. Among the shows in their repertoire are Judy Blume’s “Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great,” Marcus Pfister’s “The Rainbow Fish” and Danny Schnitzlein’s “The Monster Who Ate My Peas.”
Gunning believes the newest show touches on a timely topic. “I’m hoping kids will go ‘Yeah. It doesn’t matter what people say. Do I like this person? Well then, that is my friend. It doesn’t matter what you say.’
“Obviously, it’s called thinking for yourself and try to not let the prejudices of society dictate what you consider a friend. You should be able to decide that for yourself. Judge people for who they are as a person. …It’s a great message to tell the kids. Try not to judge somebody on what they are or what their appearance is or what other people say about them. You judge them for who they are as a person and hopefully that will be the basis of your friendship.”
ArtsPower will present “Nugget & Fang” at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 13, as part of the 2018 Spring Saturday Morning Children’s Series at the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center at Montgomery College, 51 Mannakee St., Rockville. Tickets are $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $4 for children and students with ID. The show is recommended for ages 5 and older. Call 240-567-5301 or visit montgomerycollege.edu/PAC.