‘Arkansaw Bear’ kicks off at Towngate

Cast members for Towngate Theatre's upcoming production of “The Arkansaw Bear” include, left to right, Daily Ward as the Ring Master; Isaac Swoyer as the mime; Emily Blatt as Tish; Justin Swoyer as the World's Greatest Dancing Bear and Aidan Kosol as Little Bear.

Through its annual children’s theater season, Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre in Wheeling provides kids with theater experiences that not only entertain but also teach life lessons. Through art, drama, comedy, music and dance, Towngate brings stories and characters from the page to the stage to promote literacy, ignite imaginations and teach empathy.

Towngate’s latest production, Aurand Harris’ “The Arkansaw Bear,” explores a topic often difficult to discuss with young children –how to cope with the death of a loved one. Told through the metaphor of a circus, the play is a positive and life affirming story and a welcoming, gentle and encouraging experience for young audience members.

In the play, Tish, a young girl, is saddened and confused at her grandfather’s approaching death. She retreats to her favorite tree to think and makes a wish on a star to understand why Grandpa has to die. 

Her wish is granted when she is introduced to the World’s Greatest Dancing Bear. Dancing Bear is at the end of his career and fleeing from the Ringmaster, an incarnation of death, who seeks to take him to the “Great Center Ring.”

Together the characters learn that death does not have to be final. The skills, stories and knowledge the one passes to the next, generation after generation, become a form of immortality and the best way to accept death is to give your most to the living.

Towngate artistic director Dave Henderson directs the show. He said that because it is for children the show addresses the topic of death in a way that many can understand.

“The play works really hard not to make it a frightening and ugly experience, which is what most kids equate death with,” Henderson said. “It’s really important, first off, to get kids to watch a play and experience live theater. If you can also give them a message that can be a positive experience, like this one, and tackle other difficult subjects, that’s an important way to help them learn.”

Cast members include:  Justin Swoyer, Emily Blatt, Aiden Kosol, Daily Ward, Isaac Swoyer, Karissa Martin, Elizabeth Jeffers, Suzan Herrick.

Evening performances of “The Arkansaw Bear” will be staged at 7 p.m. today and Friday, Feb. 9. Matinee shows are 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, Sunday, Feb. 4 and Saturday, Feb. 10. Members of Oglebay Institute receive a discount. Tickets can be purchased in advance at or by calling 304-242-7700.  Tickets can be purchased at the door, if available. Towngate’s box office opens one hour before all shows. Refreshments are available at Towngate Theatre and parking is curbside or in the nearby Center Wheeling Parking Garage Located at 2118 Market St. in the heart of Wheeling’s Centre Market District, Towngate is part of the nonprofit Oglebay Institute.

Towngate presents a full season of community theater as well as poetry and spoken word performances, children’s theater, ballet, improvisational comedy and live music. Towngate is also home to the Wheeling Film Society, art house cinema and features changing art exhibitions in The Gallery at Towngate. It’s educational programs include theater classes for children and adults and school programs for all ages.

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