SUNY Oswego theatre, film classes team up for 7th annual children’s weekend


April 23, 2018

Students and faculty from SUNY Oswego’s "Children’s Literature and Film" and "Storytelling" classes will use their respective arts in a free presentation of children’s stories at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 5, at Oswego Public Library.

This year’s stories, complete with animation, will include Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, Rudyard Kipling's “Just So Stories” and Grimms’ fairy tales.

Jonel Langenfeld, who teaches the storytelling class, developed the children’s weekend event after she did the same event with her students more than seven years ago at the H. Lee White Marine Museum, where they had the chance to work with children of the Oswego community. Langenfeld said she thought it would be a good idea to move the event to the public library, 120 E. Second St., on the children’s floor.

Jacob Dodd, who teaches the "Children's Literature and Film" class, has collaborated with the public library for the Fairy Tale Cinema event since the class’ inception in 2012.

“Several years ago, (Langenfeld) got wind that my students and I were hosting an event at the public library the same weekend as her 'Storytelling and Performance' class. She immediately saw the potential to cross-promote the events as a children's weekend,” Dodd said.

The event centers on children’s stories that focus on such subjects as elements of social justice, sharing life skills, and different cultural and folk celebrations and ideologies, Langenfeld said.

“Contrary to popular belief, they are not just these 'silly little dumb books.' There are so many great authors out there that have a lot of poignant things to say through stories,” she said.

'Bringing it to life'

Langenfeld said her students don’t just read the books; they bring them to life. The students adapt the stories and create a separate skit based on the books.

“They’re learning that storytelling is not just sitting and reading,” she said of her students. “It’s getting up and bringing it to life. So it’s role playing.”

Dodd said there’s no better way for his students to learn about their own creative work than to share it with the community. “From the very beginning of the course, I saw the importance of having the students show the work to an audience of children in order to read their reactions and listen to their feedback,” he said.

This year’s event will be a bit different from ones in the past where Dodd’s students used hand puppets for their assignment. This year, they explored two forms of animation: paper cut-out silhouette animation and clay puppet animation, which had his students creating wire armatures and building the character’s bodies with sculpting clay.

Sophomore cinema and screen studies major Natalie Verdi said she is excited to be a part of the event.

“I have never been a part of something like this before,” Verdi said. “We have put so much time into these animations. It can take over 20 hours to complete a very short, one-minute animation. From the building of the characters to the photography to the editing, it is not a quick process. It's all worth it in the end though.”

The challenge of their assignments was taking a six-page story and breaking it down into a one- to two-minute animation, she said.

Langenfeld said the classes are honoring someone else’s story -- the author, the illustrator and the publisher -- through this event. The students are trying to engage the audience through minimal props and little costume pieces to keep the audience’s attention on the story being told.

It is not only children who can be part of the audience, as older members of the community also can join in on the event whether for their own interest or to accompany the kids.

“It’s not surprising to me,” Langenfeld said. “In fact I love it, because that’s what it’s all about. We’re all kids at heart. Also we don’t dummy down the material. It’s just storytelling. Anyone can enjoy it. We’re just finding a way to make it accessible to younger people.”

Langenfeld and Dodd both are looking forward to the interaction between their students and the audience. “The reward is in the screening, where the characters and story come to life one frame at a time for both the makers and the audience,” Dodd said. “It's always a joy to see the children laugh at the visual and sound humor the CSS (cinema and screen studies) students incorporate into their animation.  I also love seeing the reactions of the class as they watch the children's lively response to the work.”

All theatre and all art is storytelling, Langenfeld said. This event is another way of putting stories out there for the community.

For more information about filmmaking at SUNY Oswego, visit; for more information about theatrical storytelling, visit

Tales to tell -- SUNY Oswego students and faculty will present children's stories in word and animation at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 5, to an audience of children as well as adults at Oswego Public Library. The performance will mark the seventh annual Storytelling Weekend. The event's founder is theatre faculty member Jonel Langenfeld (right), here showing her love of the craft nearly four years ago for "The Great Rope" storytelling event.