Sina Najarian Skates

Sina Skates Is Winning the Hearts of Young Theatergoers

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In the words of the Bard, the play’s the thing.

That is even true for children, for whom plays can be the means for understanding everything from morals to science.

Sina (Najarian) Skates, a playwright originally from Belmont, Mass., now makes her life in Alabama’s largest city. She has made it her mission to reach young minds to teach and entertain.

Her professionally produced, commissioned works at the Birmingham Children Theatre, have been seen by tens of thousands of children, parents, and educators across the Southeastern United States.

She currently lives in Birmingham, with her husband, 3 children, 4 cats, a dog and a hamster named Birch.

Sina Najarian Skates

Skates attended Brandeis University and recalled that she loved her time there. “I felt a special connection to the school,” she noted, because the majority of the students are Jewish and shared the Armenian experience of genocide.

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At Brandeis she took courses in clowning and physical comedy.

She explained that a clown is generally placed in an impossible situation and has to solve their dilemma and find a way out.

“This is what we find funny in life,” she explained.

The arts were a part of her life since childhood, Skates said. She grew up taking ballet lessons. Her mother’s side, especially, she recalled, were artistic, with her grandmother an opera singer and her grandfather running the church choir.

“I studied dance for many years but I felt limited in terms of the work I could do. [But] through theater and writing was how I could express myself,” she noted.

Her main desire, she said, “was to reach people.”

Now, her work with children through the theater, allows her to connect with a young audience.

Writing is nothing new for her, though. She has been writing since she was in the second grade.

Sina Najarian Skates

“I could write plays and make my friends perform in them,” she recalled, laughing. “I was always very creative and expressive. And I was always drawn to physical comedy.”

After college, she worked in the non-profit sector. Later, she married and worked as a teacher of dance and creative movement.

While teaching, she had about 300 students a week, ranging in age from 3 to 6.

“I came in with a framework” for the classes, she said. For example, she explained, she would have students help the king find a diamond in the library.

The road to being a successful children’s playwright was not a straightforward one. Skates recalled that one of her husband’s friends was working at the Birmingham Children’s Theatre and they said that they were looking for someone to write a show and she volunteered to do it.

“It was an accident that I wrote it,” she said.

However, it was a happy one.

“The first show sold out and it became the best-selling play at the theater,” she said.

The musical play was based on a different direction for the poem “Twas the Night before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, which famously begins with “Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”

What if, in fact, a mouse was stirring and the house was not quiet, Skates asked herself. “There was a house and now we have a problem,” she said.

The theater uses adult professional actors for the roles, not children, but the audiences are all children and their families.

As it turned out, the show had such a successful run that she came back to write another musical, “Little Miss Muffet” and “The Lost Sheep.”

In fact, “The Lost Sheep” was so successful that about 25,000 people saw it.

Writing is something that comes naturally to her, she said.

“I am always writing more and more,” she said. “I’m really lucky to have been able to sell some work.”

While she tries to entertain the young audiences with her shows, she tries to impart a message, noting they all have “deep meanings” while they are “very funny.”

“The Night before Christmas,” she said, emphasized that friendship is more important than shiny things.

“The messages are not in your face and that draws people to the work,” she said.

Her latest production, “E.L.V.E.S.,” is about two of Santa’s elves, Jojo and Francis, locked in their room. Much like what we are experiencing now during the pandemic, all they want is to be together and get the toys made for Santa.

The moral is “that we can overcome the problems and prevail even in the darkest times if we work together,” she said.

She emphasized that children and adults — at this point Armenians and Americans — need positive messages. “There is so much darkness around us,” she said. “So many people have broken hearts.”

“I can create something of joy,” she said. “We can get through this together.”

Of course, with the pandemic, “E.L.V.E.S.” will be seen on Zoom rather than the theater itself. “This show is very unique. Children can appear on screen with the actors. It is interactive.”

Each performance has two actors and 10 children watching. “The children go and help them solve a problem,” she said.

Parents in advance are told of the items the show will need and they have to hide them around the house. The items are all simple household items, such as scissors, to serve as a “treasure hunt to help the elves solve the problems.”

The show started its run on November 27 and will continue through December 13.

The play is recommended for ages 5 – 11 and has a running time of 50 minutes.

One of the nation’s oldest and largest professional theatre companies for young audiences, BCT produces high-quality, professional theatrical entertainment and curriculum-relevant arts education experiences for children and families. BCT is the second largest employer of professional theatre artists in Alabama, and is Alabama’s only professional touring theatre company.

BCT tickets are inexpensive, $8 to $10

“They want to make the theater available to everyone,” Skates said.

Before moving to Alabama, the family lived in Maine for five years. During that time, the family would regularly drive to Watertown on Friday night and send the kids to Saturday and Sunday school at St. James Armenian Church.

“I really wanted my kids to know about my culture. There is not a large community here. Boston is so rich and vibrant and all my children were baptized in the Armenian Church,” she said.

Both branches of Skates’ family fled to the US from Western Armenia. One branch fled in the 1895 massacres while the other side fled the Genocide. The heritage and

She is a proud descendent of Malatya and said that her family would often attend cultural events related to the province.

“On my father’s side (Tom Najarian) his parents were born in this country. My grandmother, her parents were from Malatya. They came over in the late 1890s, after the massacres of 1895. We have a Najarian family tree that dates back hundreds of years. It’s a family project and pretty interesting,” she noted.

“On my mother’s side (Sina Maritza Dinjian Najarian), her father was born in Harput (Deran Dinjian). He escaped with his family in 1915 when he was a young boy. Her mother, my grandmother, Maritza Dinjian, was born in this country. Her parents came over in 1905,” she added.

Skates is now working on fiction aimed at kids in grades three through five.

“I may end up writing another of the virtual shows for January and February. We need more of this,” she said, something that can spark some joy for kids, allow them to “have found a spark of joy and light.”

For tickets or information, visit https://www.bct123.org/

To watch two of her science videos on YouTube, visit

Science is Fun (10 minutes, puppet show 1 actor, any gender)

Evy & the Pirates (10 minutes, puppet show 1 actor, any gender)

 

 

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