At the time that Martin and her friends--actress Sudie Bond and painters Remy Charlip and Shirley Kaplan--started the company, she was teaching dance, which inspired some of the early pieces. In the ensuing years Martin (who declines to give her age because people say, "Oh, you're so wonderful at your age.") has watched the Paper Bag Players evolve without shifting its original focus.
Today, she says, the shows are more inclusive of the audience. "We always had some audience participation because we realized very early on that that was a high point for children, when they take over, when they seem the most excited, the most involved," she explains. "We used to provide some opportunity for that, but now it seems to me that our whole show is inclusive in that way. When there's that feeling in the audience that the story is theirs, it's a very exhilarating atmosphere."
Children can sing and dance in front of their seats as they learn the words and steps to "The Paper Bag Rag" and help a lost family of tubular creatures find each other in the mall. "The idea was to take the notion of being lost and desperate and looking for someone and carry that into something comic rather than fearful."
The group has also worked into their repertoire a series of "painting pieces," in which an actor paints the backdrop of a story on a large piece of paper as events unfold on stage. And Martin doesn't think the children of the millennium have been too digitalized by computers, video and film to find pleasure in such seemingly rudimentary entertainment. "In our theater there is no hidden theatricality," she observes. "The effects are right there. The paper turns around and the image gets larger, and I think that is so typical of children's play and that will always be very close to children."
Regardless of language or cultural differences, it seems. Martin remembers some trepidation prior to a tour of Japan over how kids in that country would respond to the show. "Our sponsors were very concerned because Japanese children tend to be formal and reserved," she remembers. "But you hear the first little laugh and you know that they're with you."
Once the New York run ends, the Paper Bag Players will take Molly Wiggle and Minnie Shake on tour across the country through May.