Abby Felder wanted to pursue experimental theater after college, so the North Carolina native moved to Asheville seven years ago and co-founded Asheville Creative Arts. It’s the only company devoted solely to producing children's theater in Western North Carolina.
“Working with younger audiences in particular, they are not as hung up on traditional dramatic structures. They’re kind of along for the ride,” she said. “So if you’re giving them a piece that’s more experiment or subverts narrative, they’re just there for that, and they’re more interested in pure storytelling.”
Alongside tried-and-true plays from the children’s theater canon, the company creates one production each season from scratch. One such original work is “The Warp and the Weft,” a musical story drawing on the history of North Carolina’s textile mills. Performances run two weekends, beginning April 19, at the Magnetic Theatre in the River Arts District.
“We like the original works because it gives us the freedom to delve into themes that might not be traditionally approached for young audiences,” Felder said.
For Felder gathered historical texts and recorded audio stories from members of her ensemble and immigrant youth in Asheville. Those stories are the mile-markers along a narrative adapted from a Spanish fairy tale about a young girl working in a North Carolina textile mill. The underlying story is about empowering audiences and cast, alike, to control their own narratives, Felder said.
“It is a bit about directing people to reveal certain aspects of themselves, and that means a lot of groundwork had to go into creating a space safe for that,” she said. “This piece almost has become more of a symphony, in the sense where we’re conducting different moments and finding the rhythm and energy of each of them.”
Felder wants her audiences to absorb that textile mills relied to some extent on child labor, yet she strives to create shows without a political agenda. She said the mix of song, shadow puppetry and abstracted pieces into the narrative is designed to reach the different ways kids take in information.
“Because of the themes we choose, I think there’s an obvious point of view there, but really what’s important is young people are asked to navigate for themselves what they think,” Felder said. “We just try and focus on that core principle of honesty.”
And for the foreseeable future, Felder wants to continue that pursuit in Asheville.
“We’ve always wanted to work in this region, specifically,” she said. “Something this part of the state has higher-than-average pockets of is generational poverty, so it feels important to be here and give this outlet to all kinds of populations here.”