FARGO — When Theatre NDSU performed sold-out shows of “The Ugly Duckling” for young children last year, Artistic Director Jess Jung recalls the flood of positive feedback from appreciative parents.

“Several parents approached me after the show and said iterations of ‘There is nothing like this in Fargo,’ specifically talking about programming for toddlers,” Jung says. “It was apparent that there was an interest and a need for more toddler and preschool programming in the Fargo-Moorhead area.”

To expand the program this year, Jung and her team at North Dakota State University's Division of Performing Arts partnered with Plains Art Museum, Gasper’s School of Dance, Kindermusik and Fargo Public Library to organize the first Littles Art Day in the community, taking place 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, May 11, at Plains Art Museum in downtown Fargo.

Littles Art Day is intended for audiences 5 and younger and entails two theater performances of “The Ugly Duckling” and “A Jaguar’s Tale,” weaving activities, dance classes, live music and story time throughout the day. Each art activity intends to give children and their guardians the opportunity “to create active arts experiences and memories,” Jung says.

“Art is an integral part of human development,” she adds. “Modeling, imagination, creation, storytelling — these are essential elements of play. Creating art for the very young gives children an outlet to explore and learn new skills and ideas.”

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Amanda Booher, promotions director at NDSU Performing Arts, says another goal of the day is to connect families to the community.

“A lot of parents may not have been to Plains Art Museum before or experienced a dance class with Gasper’s School of Dance, so this opportunity is a perfect way to bring families out and expose them to art in a way that is not overwhelming,” she says.

Theatre NDSU will perform "The Ugly Duckling" and "A Jaguar's Tale" on Saturday, May 11, at Littles Art Day at Plains Art Museum in Fargo. NDSU Performing Arts / Special to The Forum
Theatre NDSU will perform "The Ugly Duckling" and "A Jaguar's Tale" on Saturday, May 11, at Littles Art Day at Plains Art Museum in Fargo. NDSU Performing Arts / Special to The Forum

Energizing kids

The schedule of the event is structured around performances of “The Ugly Duckling” at 9:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. and “A Jaguar’s Tale” at 1:30 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. Other activities occur before and after each production, which last around 15 minutes.

“People can attend and not go to either play if they just want a free day of art,” Booher says.

Theatre NDSU received a grant from The Arts Partnership last year to create “The Ugly Duckling,” a play about a little duckling trying to find where she belongs in the world. To add to the cuteness, the story is told completely through quacking. Jung wrote “The Ugly Duckling” and portrays Mama Duck in the production.

She learned about theater for children at Alliance Theatre’s “Toddler Takeover Festival” in Atlanta.

“Littles Art Day is loosely modeled after that festival of arts events for toddlers, preschoolers and their families,” Jung says.

She also wrote “A Jaguar’s Tale,” in which a jaguar and his sloth friend teach children about deforestation and the importance of protecting the earth. Her inspiration for the play came from watching documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” about Mister Rogers.

“I was inspired by Mister Rogers to create a piece of theater that didn’t shy away from this big topic,” she says. “This led me to something I’m deeply passionate about: the health of our planet.”

To drive home the message, the set for “A Jaguar’s Tale” is built completely with recycled materials.

Overall, Jung says she hopes Littles Art Day attendees leave the museum “energized by the arts.”

Booher agrees.

“There’s going to be smiles all day long,” she says.

If you go

What: Littles Art Day

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 11

Where: Plains Art Museum, 704 First Ave. N., Fargo

Cost: $5 for theater performances, and other activities are free

Info: Call 701-231-7969 to reserve tickets; visit www.ndsu.edu/performingarts/news for a full schedule of Littles Art Day events

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.