It’s a rough sketch, but the personality is clear. Kiwi the bunny is a sunny yellow with googly eyes that point in the same direction, though one is larger than the other. And his floppy ears? So big the page can’t contain them.
He’s a “magical baby bunny” puppet who has been struck by a car, and one Cincinnati drag queen Sparkle Leigh will use to teach children life lessons such as empathy and bravery during Storytime with Sparkle, debuting Nov. 9 at the Know Theatre.
Sparkle Leigh has hosted storytimes throughout the Cincinnati area and Seattle, Washington, since 2012—her Seattle shows became so popular, only the first 100 people could get in—but this will be the first time she’s had a regular home base in town. Storytime with Sparkle will be a monthly fixture at the Know Theatre through April 2020.
“I’m fully flushing out the program into what I’ve always wanted it to be, so it’s not going to be a regular story time where we sit and read books,” says Dan Davidson, who performs as Sparkle.
Davidson, a theater graduate from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and Lakota West High School alum, calls his Know performance an imagination adventure.
“We’re going to have a map and go on adventures,” he says. “We’ll read a book, learn some things, meet a puppet at the end. The whole goal of the program has always been (that) everybody walks away with a new friend.”
Sparkle’s lessons will focus on topics like empathy, kindness, and bravery. Take Kiwi, a character Davidson developed while on the road with the Missoula Children’s Theatre, based in Montana. Kiwi is a magical baby bunny who got hurt when he was hit by a car, which immediately elicits empathy from the audience. The bunny, though, is scared to come out for the magic show, so Sparkle will talk to the children about bravery.
“We’re meeting this character who’s been through this horrible thing and helping her to get on stage and do this one little trick,” Davidson says. “Bravery, that is so important for kids. We’ve all lost track of how many school shootings and bomb threats” there have been.
Storytime with Sparkle is geared toward children aged pre-K to eight. Queer teens enjoy it as well, he says, and he’s hoping to invite queer teen volunteers who are interested in education and want to work with social justice activities.
Maggie Rader, the Know’s education director, first saw Sparkle Leigh perform at this year’s Cincinnati Fringe Festival, and she’s excited to add Storytime to the Know’s lineup. For one, Sparkle’s program isn’t a traditional drag queen story hour, which has been popular throughout the country for years. She also notes the importance of queer kids seeing queer adults thrive.
“Representation is very important, and (for) children who are being raised by queer parents and children who are queer themselves, it’s so important to see adults entertaining and living in a fantastic way that is normal, and to see themselves and see their parents represented in the arts and onstage,” she says. “This is something our community needs, and I hope adults are reminded why it’s so important for us to play and explore, too.”
Storytime with Sparkle, 10:30 a.m. the second Saturday of the month, November 2019 to April 2020, the Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine.