Goldberg's long career

After 25 years at Stage One Theatre,
Goldberg will work at his own pace

By Levi King
Staff Writer

(January 2006) – Moses Goldberg always knew he wanted to help children. As a teenager, he spent his summers working as a camp counselor and decided to pursue a career in mental health. A New Orleans native who now resides in Madison, Ind., Goldberg graduated from Tulane with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, then earned a master’s degree in developmental psychology from Stanford University. It wasn’t long, however, before Goldberg decided to change his approach.

Moses Goldberg

Photo by Levi King

Now retired, Moses Goldberg
had a long career in theater.

“I began to think it would be more fun to keep kids healthy than to try to fix them once they had problems,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg had participated in theater productions during his high school years, and once again found himself interested in drama, this time as a means for engaging children emotionally. So he returned to graduate school, earning a master’s degree at the University of Washington at Seattle and a PhD. at the University of Minnesota, both in theater. Goldberg taught at Texas, then at Florida State University as an associate professor of theater.
“That’s where I began experimenting,” he said. Goldberg started a professional theater company there and developed a children’s tour. He eventually left for New York City, where he worked in theater for more than two years.
Goldberg published “Children’s Theatre: A Philosophy and a Method” in 1974. It was widely used as a textbook by universities across the country and began Goldberg’s reputation as “the father of developmental theater.” The concept, Goldberg explained, emphasizes that plays should be aimed at appropriate age groups, which he breaks into 4-7 years, 8-11 years, and 12 and older.
In 1978, Goldberg was hired to the position of producing director at the Louisville Children’s Theatre. Goldberg soon changed the name to Stage One, giving the theater an appeal to broader audiences.
“When I took over, I wanted to get the word ‘children’ out of the name,” Goldberg said. “I use the term ‘theater for young audiences,’ because that includes adolescents. They don’t like to be called ‘children.’ ”
Goldberg was hired at a time when the theater was expanding, so he was charged with setting a new course for the company – no small task considering that Stage One was then one of the nation’s three largest theaters for young people. Goldberg again developed a professional company of actors and crewmembers who embraced his philosophies and worked together to bring high quality productions to young audiences. He also started a national tour through Stage One, which lasted for eight years and traveled from Maine to Iowa to Texas.
One of Goldberg’s earliest tasks as producing director was consulting with designers of Stage One’s new home, the Bomhart Theatre, which opened in 1983 as part of the Louisville Center for the Arts. A few details make the facility extra kid-friendly – for example, the seating is built at a steep grade to allow shorter viewers to see over others, and no seat is more than six from an aisle, allowing children easy access to restrooms.
At Stage One, Goldberg’s theories about developmental theater further coalesced. “The most important thing about working with children is that you have to respect your audience,” he said. “Children deserve our best.”
Through developmental theater, Goldberg treats his audiences with honesty and respect, and tries to strike a balance between challenging them and losing their attention. “You don’t want to be condescending, but you don’t want to go over their heads, either,” Goldberg said. “Children know when you’re talking down to them. I try to give them something to stretch for.”
While Goldberg has written several successful original plays, he is also widely known for his adaptations of popular books and folktales. His production of “Pinocchio” was recorded by the British Broadcasting Corp and is available on DVD. Goldberg worked with popular youth authors, such as Katherine Patterson, to adapt her books “Bridge to Terabithia” and “The Great Gilly Hopkins” for the stage. Knowing your audience and using subject matter within their range is vital, Goldberg stressed. “Take Shakespeare, for example,” he said. “Young people can understand a simple story like ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ but ‘King Lear’ will lose them anyway you do it.”
Whether watching or participating, theater allows young people an important emotional outlet, Goldberg said. “I noticed that a lot of kids’ problems had to do with putting up emotional barriers,” he said. “I felt like the arts were a good way to approach that and to help them know themselves as whole human beings.”
While many dramatic presentations carry a message, if they aren’t entertaining, they won’t be successful. “It can’t just be a lesson – you get turned off if it’s boring and pedantic,” Goldberg added.
Even so, Goldberg said he doesn’t have all the answers to success on the stage. “My favorite productions are often financial disasters but artistic successes,” he said, laughing.
Goldberg lists working with talented artists and maintaining a successful company as his greatest achievements at Stage One, but he also has significant honors to his name. Last summer, Goldberg was recognized with a medallion from the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America and Gov. Ernie Fletcher recently named him Kentucky Artist of the Year.
Since Goldberg retired in 2002, the Kentucky Center for the Arts took over Stage One, which was previously independent. “The Theatre is in really good hands now,” he noted.
Now Goldberg keeps busy writing, directing and consulting for various projects. He said he’s interested in working on television or film projects and acting again – something he hasn’t tried in many years.
In October, Goldberg’s “The Sapphire Comb” debuted at the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library and was performed at area elementary schools. Riverrun Theatre Co. of Madison commissioned and produced the play, with support from Arvin Sango Inc., the Rivers Institute at Hanover College, the Arts Council of Southern Indiana and the National Endowment for the Arts.
“The Sapphire Comb” is the story of a family living in a small river town. A young girl, Hannah, and her friend, Corwin, explore the river and attempt to uncover the mysterious details of her mother’s death. Goldberg and Riverrun director Jim Stark incorporated elements of fairy tales and kabuki to give the play a timeless appeal.
Goldberg just completed a new book, “Essays on Theatre for Young Audiences,” which is scheduled for release in January. His wife, Patricia, recently retired from her post as chairman of the education department at Hanover College, and the two are planning a move to the Baltimore area in December to be closer to their grandchildren.

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