By Michelle Levine

Kid-friendly interactive theater is coming to Hyattsville parks.

Jennifer Ridgeway, a theater teaching artist, got the idea for Yard Dramas when forced into unemployment in the beginning of the pandemic. She began performing stories weekly for a two-year-old neighbor with a newborn sibling. A website testimonial says the performances were the highlight of the toddler’s week, and taught him to identify emotions, and predict what might happen next.

Puppets are a prop used in Yard Drama’s to create interactive storytelling
Courtesy of Jennifer Ridgway

Ridgway has now partnered with other theatre teaching artists to create Yard Dramas in parks and yards across Prince George’s County. All families are welcome to the free, physically distanced event and asked to bring blankets to enforce staying six feet apart.

The group will also be at University Hills Duck Pond Park on August 10, with performances at 10:45 a.m. and noon. There are more stops planned throughout the county; the full schedule can be found on Yard Drama’s website.

A typical session lasts 20-30 minutes, Ridgway said. But the upcoming Hyattsville show will be two separate 30 minute performances: puppeteer Penny Russell will start with half of the group at 10:45 while Ridgway is with the other half, then at 11:15, the groups will switch.

The program is part of a month-long goal to visit one park each day in Prince Geroge’s county. Ridgway loads up her dusty red wagon with a “story box,” which includes props for that day’s setting. One day she might have a blue yoga mat to immediate the ocean, or the imagination to transform into a mosquito.

Families are handed individual baggies with props to use throughout the show as a safety precaution.

Families can either pre-register for the free event on the city’s website, or walk-in, said city youth program coordinator Verónica Rivera-Negrón. While the website says there is a capacity limit of 25 people per event, Rivera-Negrón said that lifted COVID restrictions have allowed for groups to meet at full capacity in the parks.