Serving Marin County for over 50 years, Masque Unit Theatre of Marin is a non-profit organization that brings together volunteers to present live theater for children and their families, drawing on traditional stories and fairy tales through a contemporary lens. The adaptations are lively musicals, estimated at providing over 300,000 children over the years with affordable entertainment, sparking creativity in the arts.

Founded in 1962 by a group of local women, known at the time as the Masque Unit Junior Theatre of Marin, their earliest play was The Pale Pink Dragon, inspired by a beloved fire breathing prop. Current productions are delightfully vibrant, with an annual play at the Marin Center Showcase Theatre, followed by two weeks of traveling performances to Bay Area schools that were unable to participate due to lack of transportation funding. Masque provides the teachers with age appropriate materials to prepare students before the visit, and encourages questions for the cast after the performance.

Masque Unit of Marin Jack and the Beanstalk

“Jack and the Beanstalk” (2016) with Lucy Goose (Susan Bell-Warner of Novato); Jack (Kathy Eggert of Novato); and Rita the Cow (Sheila Jones of San Rafael). Photo by Jim Clark.

Susan Bell-Warner, Co-Producer of the 2017 play Cinderella Gone to the Dogs! graciously provided background on the company’s rich history and ongoing mission.

What does live theater offer young people today in a world driven by technology and film?

Sadly, children today don’t utilize their imaginations as much as before the invention of so much screen-oriented entertainment. Live theater provides a great opportunity to engage it! It provides a type of magic that consists of: living breathing characters in colorful costumes, stage make-up, creative sets, catchy musical song and dance numbers, and even an opportunity to interact with the cast. Masque productions teach young children audience etiquette, how to listen to a story unfold, that it’s okay to laugh, and even when to applaud. While there is a place for technology, live theater incorporates a human element to entertainment and storytelling that children often miss today.

Since its founding, Masque has used all female volunteers; other than offering an opportunity for women in the community to give back, what is the main reason to continue that tradition?

All Masque Unit members are female volunteers who share a passion for theater and a love of children. We are a female empowered group that supports one another through the joys, and challenges of life. Many have been in Masque Unit for 10, 20, even 40 plus years. We are friends who enjoy being together socially, as well as working hard each year to provide quality productions. While other similar children’s theatre groups have disbanded, this year marks our 56th production!

How are the stories for plays chosen each year?

Our annual productions are chosen by our script reading committee made up of a small subset of our volunteer membership. They search for pieces that both entertain and send positive messages. The age appropriate stories need to mesmerize, engage, and challenge children to think outside of the box. Our audiences tend to leave with their imaginations ignited and often humming a catchy tune.

What is the biggest challenge to keep Masque Unit going for another 50 years?

Attracting new energetic members. Many of us started when we had young children, because we rehearse and hold social events while children attend school. Because more and more Marin families have two working parents, it’s a real challenge to find women who can join us in this incredibly creative and fulfilling charity work.

Masque Unit Marin Cinderella

“Cinderella Gone to the Dogs” (2017) with Audrey Zavell of Novato, Susan Bell-Warner of Novato and Carol Sheerin of San Rafael. Photo by Sheila Jones.

Join Masque Unit Theatre of Marin for Cinderella Gone to the Dogs! a fun, one-hour interactive musical for ages three and up, presented at the Marin Center Showcase Theatre in San Rafael. Featuring book, music, and lyrics by Ron Lytle, this fractured adaptation of the timeless fairytale features Broadway style songs, dancing, comedy, and magic. Familiar characters are portrayed as dogs and the Fairy God-Mouser appears as a cat. The story follows Cinderella as she goes from the lowest existence to “Best in Show” at the Bow Wow Ball.

Saturday, March 4, 2017
11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:00 p.m.

Tickets are $10-12, for more information, call (415) 473-6800 or visit the box office

Masque Unit Website: www.masqueunit.net