Try telling children mythological tales. Their eyes widen, they listen in rapt attention and as the adult, you finish the story ending with the moral of the story, hoping that they understand the relevance of the story to their daily lives. But as you finish, you realize from the expression in their eyes that they are thinking, “This story happened 2, 000 years ago. Here I am with my videogames and my basketball gear. How is this mythological character’s experience relevant to me?” And, there the bridge of understanding is lost. Marsh Youth Theater attempts to create that bridge of understanding between children in today’s world and the life of Buddha in their latest production, “Siddhartha: The Bright Path.”

Marsh Youth Theater’s Director Emily Klion says, “We try to tell the story of Buddha through the character of Chandra, a girl growing up in San Francisco. We have tried to juxtapose the experience of Chandra who feels unfulfilled even as she is surrounded by several gifts for her birthday, and Siddhartha, who feels a sense of emptiness amidst the opulence in his palace. We use this as the starting point of the story, leading audience members through the life of how Siddhartha transforms himself into the revered Buddha, as he searches and finds his true self. Every person has an obligation to enlighten themselves, finding a way to be more compassionate and to better the world, and Budha’s story is the perfect vehicle to convey this thought to children,” she says.

Klion has drawn upon her experiences of studying Indian music at Mills College and as through a year long fellowship in India several years ago.

This production billed as a musical uses music, dance, drama, and art to bring Buddha’s life alive on stage. Participants have learnt the rudiments of kathak and have learnt how to perform to melodies based on Indian ragas and talas. The production was staged last year, and received raving reviews and ran to full houses. There were several groups of sixth graders who could particularly relate well to the story of Buddha because the state Social Studies curriculum includes a concentrated study of Asian history and religion.

For this year’s production, Klion says with satisfaction, “Every production can be made better, but one rarely gets an opportunity to do so in the world of performing arts. I am happy that we were able to take the original production and rework several details to make it better this time. We chose the young performers based on auditions.” This year’s production runs through the holiday season and provides a different choice for families looking for theatrical events to enjoy with their children.

“Last year, when we staged ‘Siddhartha: The Bright Path,’ as the last scene was being played on stage, I found the children who were not on stage standing backstage with their arms entwined and joining joyously with the lines of the song – ‘Love life, Stay aware. Do your best in the world.’ To me, it was a triumphant moment as I could feel that they had truly imbibed the essence of Buddha’s message through their participation in the production. I am hoping that children who watch will also be transformed and affected by this theatrical experience.”

Written by Danny Duncan, Emily Klion and Lisa Quoresimo. Music by Emily Klion and Lisa Quoresimo with George Brooks. Directed by Lisa Quoresimo. Choreography by Joanna Meini, Antonia Minnecola and Russell Wright. Sets by John Ramirez. Costumes by Susana Aragon. MYT Director Emily Klion.

Friday December 14, 2007—Sunday, January 6, 2008. Timings vary for weekday and weekend showtimes. The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco. $18-$35 adults (sliding scale), $12-$20 children under 12 and patrons over 65 (sliding scale). 800-838-3006. (415) 826-5750.

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is on the editorial board of India Currents.

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is a multifaceted artist - a dancer, writer, storyteller, and educator. She founded the Sankalpa School of dance, where she trains the next generation of committed dancers to pursue...