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Widener's FreshBaked Theatre Company to Put a New Spin on "Hansel and Gretel" with "A Murder of Crows"

A gaggle of geese, a school of fish, and a pride of lions -- all well-known terms for groups of various animals. But, what about a murder of crows? That, indeed, is the collective noun for a group of the loud black birds that hover over farmers’ fields and wake us in the early morning with their raucous caws.
freshbaked cast

Soon, the crows will descend upon Widener University’s Alumni Auditorium when the FreshBaked Theatre Company presents the play “A Murder of Crows” on two consecutive Sundays, Nov. 1 and Nov. 8, at 2 p.m. Matinees for local schools and homeschooling families will take place the week of November 2-6, which require reservations.

All performances take place in Alumni Auditorium, located on Widener’s Main Campus in Chester, Pa. Audience members will have the opportunity to decorate a scarecrow in the auditorium lobby to help scare away the crows in the show.

“A Murder of Crows” is recommended for ages 8 to adult. Running time is 60 minutes. Admission to all performances is by free will cash donation, with all funds benefiting food pantries in Chester. The suggested donation is $2 per person.

Inspired by the well-known fairytale “Hansel and Gretel” about a brother and sister left alone in a forest, “A Murder of Crows” is an imaginative, exciting production that explores themes of famine, family loyalties and survival. The Boy and the Girl must overcome many challenges: the death of their beloved mother; the pain of hunger; abandonment by their father and stepmother; and the threat that lies in the Old Lady in the cottage in the woods. How they find the will to overcome and survive provides a rich learning experience for audiences both young and old.

An ensemble of actors weave a gothic story of the children’s journey through fear and abandonment, all from the squawking perspective of a group of boisterous crows. According to director Lisa Eckley Cocchiarale, the raucous crows function as a sort of “Greek chorus,” both narrating and commenting on the “stories [that] fall like stones/ The ripples spread / Through living and dead.”

“A Murder of Crows” was written for young audiences by Mike Kenny, an award-winning British playwright. It asks important questions at the heart of childhood fears:  Will my family have enough food? Will I be loved? Will I be safe? How can I find my way home?  The fairytale format is a familiar means through which children can imaginatively explore how they would deal with such fundamental fears.

The FreshBaked performance of “A Murder of Crows” features Widener University students Luis Aguilar, Rebecca Gomezrueda, Sara Hufnagle, Carolyn Lodge, Kirk Reichart, Erika Sprague and Elizabeth Yenser in addition to eighth-grade student Ruby Knipe of Wilmington, Del. It is directed by Cocchiarale with technical assistance by Daniel Castagna and produced by special arrangement with Plays for Young Audiences out of Minneapolis, Minn.

Since 2001, Widener’s FreshBaked Theatre Company has produced quality drama for children and families in the greater Chester area. The ensemble seeks to enhance Widener University’s commitment to civic engagement by sharing the magic of live performing arts.

For more information, or to make reservations for a school/homeschooling show, please e-mail Cocchiarale at ljcocchiarale@widener.edu or visit the FreshBaked Theatre Company on Facebook.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener comprises eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university’s campuses in Chester, Exton and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve some 6,200 students. Widener is proud to be a tobacco-free university. Visit the university website, www.widener.edu.

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Photo Caption: The cast of "A Murder of Crows" is pictured above. Cast members include, from left to right, top row: Erika Sprague, Rebecca Gomezrueda and Ruby Knipe; middle row: Carolyn Lodge, Sara Hufnagle, Kirk Reichart and Elizabeth Yenser; and bottom row: Luis Aguilar.