Paper Bag Players Celebrate 65 Years of Making Magic Out of the Ordinary

What fun can you have with plain brown grocery sacks and empty cardboard cartons?

Preschoolers know how to derive joy from these objects (as does any curious cat). But perhaps the best way to appreciate their magical potential is to watch the Paper Bag Players, a New York City children’s theater company that thrives on turning the ordinary into the unexpected.

Families can experience that transformative power on Sunday, when the nonprofit troupe presents “It’s a Marvelous Paper Bag World!” at the Kaye Playhouse in Manhattan. (They will also perform in April at the Jewish Museum and SUNY Orange in Middletown, N.Y.) The production consists of 13 musical skits tailored for audiences ages 3 to 9, and it celebrates a milestone that any performing-arts organization would envy: the company’s 65th season, making it one of the longest-operating children’s theater troupes in the nation.

“At the heart of our theater is making imaginative use of materials,” John Stone, the players’ executive director, composer and music director, said during a group interview with the company’s principals.

The troupe’s devotion to paper and cardboard, from which it has devised sets, props and towering characters, dates to its earliest days. In 1958, its founders, who included the dancers Judith Martin and Remy Charlip, began to experiment with simple objects. Over the years, the raw materials have expanded to include foam board, Tyvek and household tools like mop heads.

Clockwise from bottom left, Brenda Cummings, Jan Maxwell, James Lally and, in the bed, Judith Martin, in “Cookies” (1984).Credit…Ken Howard
The new production, “It’s a Marvelous Paper Bag World!,” includes the 1991 skit “Lost in the Mall,” starring actors wrapped in cardboard.Credit…Martha Swope via The Paperpage Players

“We take our inspiration from them,” Stone said of children. “Then we’re making our own sorts of things with them in mind, or with their kind of play in mind. And that gives it back to the kids. And it’s an upward spiral of inspiration.”

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