‘Me ... Jane’ tells story of young animal activist, encourages kids to dream big

“Me ... Jane: The Dreams and Adventures of Young Jane Goodall” will be performed Sunday at Eisenhower Auditorium.
“Me ... Jane: The Dreams and Adventures of Young Jane Goodall” will be performed Sunday at Eisenhower Auditorium. Teresa Wood

The early days of one of the world’s most influential primatologists and anthropologists comes to the stage in “Me ... Jane: The Dreams and Adventures of Young Jane Goodall.” The Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences production is based on the book by the same name by Patrick McDonnell and inspires young children to pursue their dreams with a plucky, can-do attitude.

It’s an inspiration that will resonate with both children and adults alike who catch the Sunday show at Eisenhower Auditorium. Shinah Brashears, who plays Young Jane, said channeling this attitude was an important part of her preparation for the role.

“I wanted to make sure I paid (Jane Goodall) the respect that she needs. It’s really easy to play a kid just as a generic kid,” Brashears said. “I did a lot of research ... (and) I also really tried to look at myself, and was directed by Erin Posner really wonderfully, to find that drive that kids have that maybe we lose later. (Kids) are always open to trying whatever it will take. ... Later in life, you kind of shut down or stop, but kids aren’t that way. They want to keep trying until they get it.”

Brashears said it’s an honor to play the character, and to help spread a message to children in the audience.

“As a woman in her 20s, there are a lot of things that we are told growing up that we couldn’t do and even today you get told constantly there are things that you can’t do. In this play, we see that a normal girl was able to do something so amazing and find a connection because of her empathy with animals that no one else could find,” she said. “It’s an honor to play someone who stepped outside of that box that we’re told to be in, and to spread that to children.”

The enriching experience doesn’t start or end with the production, though. The Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State provides families with a wealth of opportunities to connect with children over the themes of resilience and empathy, while exploring an important figure in history.

Before the show, ticket holders can attend a free Kids Connections event, which Education and Community Programs Manager Medora Dutton Ebersole calls a chance “to have a shared interactive experience and to make memories together.”

“The idea is to make everyone welcome and comfortable in the theater, but we also see it as an informal learning opportunity and we have activities which reference some of the themes in the performance,” she notes.

The event is perfect for school-age children and includes snacks and carefully curated activities. The CPA partnered with the PSU Matson Museum of Anthropology to offer unique experiences like walking like a chimp, using life casts of chimp hands and feet, or building a chimpanzee out of paper cutouts and brass fasteners, using a chimp skeleton for comparison.

As families leave following the performance, they can take with them postcards created by the Kennedy Center, which are intended to guide post-show conversations, allowing parents to go beyond simple questions of why or why not their child liked the show, to focus on lessons learned and possible avenues of inspiration.

If you go

What: “Me ... Jane: The Dreams and Adventures of Young Jane Goodall”

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Eisenhower Auditorium, University Park

Info: cpa.psu.edu