Pipeline of Fun: Ants on a Log Reach Kids through Humor and Music
Folk duo Ants on a Log (Julie Beth and Anya Rose) write music for children and other childlike people, songfully advocating for positivity, social justice, and silliness. They have been featured on XPN’s Kids Corner, at the Philadelphia Folk Fest, and on radio stations around the globe. In 2016 the Ants performed their debut musical Curious: Think Outside the Pipeline, using the power of eco-feminist music and humor to encourage families to stay “curious” about alternatives to fossil fuels.
Julie (a music therapist) and Anya Rose (an elementary science teacher) reworked their musical for the 2018 Fringe Festival show Music for Children and Other Curious People, performed on two dates in Fishtown and West Philadelphia. The pair spoke to FringeArts about creating a fun, socially conscious work for kids.
FringeArts: What do you like about creating theater and performing for kids?
Ants on a Log: Ants on a Log gives us an outlet for our silliness, and it’s a fun challenge to create something that is appealing to both children and adults. We love performing for kids because they are excited and curious about everything, which is how we think adults are too, but only in those rare moments when it’s deemed socially appropriate. Silliness aside, theater and music feel really important right now. This is how ideas are spread. It’s no accident that our songs are so catchy: we want you to accidentally memorize how to change the world for the better.
Ants on a Log: The summer before the 2016 election, we were awarded a Leeway grant to create a musical. We thought carefully about what we thought all kids should know about, and the power that comes with creating music that people will listen and sing along to. It’s a lot of responsibility! The plot began as a near-future utopia where society realized that we need people of all genders to save the environment. That idea morphed after Anya participated in a protest against Philadelphia Energy Solutions, which was trying to expand an oil refinery in Philadelphia. They showed no regard for the health of the people who lived here, they denied scientific evidence, and of course, they were looking to build in the poorest parts of the city where people had the fewest resources to fight it. We were inspired by the work of Philly Thrive, which mobilizes people from affected neighborhoods to fight environmental injustice. The story was basically already written, it just needed music and characters.
FringeArts: How has it evolved for the Festival?
Ants on a Log: It was an uplifting experience to perform Curious in 2016 with 12 people. It was during/after the election, and this play kept us hopeful and inspired. After each show, our audience sent postcards to support a Green Justice Philly action, and were excited to hear that the public pressure worked! The refinery would not be expanding.
We wanted to make the play mobile so schools and communities could see it, so we made it into a two-person performance. It’s been messy/funny/inspiring learning to focus our usual improv-performer-energy into a play with an actual script.
FringeArts: Is there a specific message you want to convey?
Ants on a Log: Curious is about environmental injustices committed by corporations all over the world. Specifically, it’s about fossil fuel production and the obvious harm those companies do to ecosystems and to human health. Curious is also about kids getting civically engaged. Our hope is that it will spark conversations between kids and their adults about issues that are important to them and how they can become involved.
While our show highlights the importance of community over corporations, we purposely do NOT introduce one solution to climate change. Rather, our message is that communities should support creative problem-solving. We also love to normalize gender-diversity and blended families without those being the topic of the performance.
FringeArts: How do you balance the political consciousness of the play with the need to stay entertaining and silly?
Ants on a Log: Humor is a great way to tell a story, get people to listen, and—ironically—to be taken seriously. We continuously check with each other—is this actually funny? Is this actually the message we want to focus on? We’ve also found that whether we’re being our political selves or our silly selves, authenticity translates best. If a lyric doesn’t feel genuine, we have to change it.
As an elementary science teacher, much of Anya’s job is to simplify concepts for kids (and adults) to understand. She spends a lot of time thinking about if something really needs to be complex, or can it be simplified? What if sometimes there really is an objective right and wrong? Do we hurt the environment and jeopardize people’s health when there are other options available? It’s been a puzzle to figure out how to ask these questions through art, and in a way that doesn’t feel overly simplistic or naive, and yet is also accessible to all ages and knowledge-levels.
FringeArts: What makes you curious?
Ants on a Log: We both answered this one separately, and then we laughed at how similar we are.
Anya Rose: I’m curious about human behavior and behavioral economics. Why do people make the decisions they do? As a teacher, how can I set up my classroom to encourage kids to make the best choices both for themselves and for the whole class? Freakonomics and Radio Lab podcasts both spark and satiate my curiosity. I’m also interested in nature. What is that berry, and can I eat it? What animal built that structure, and how? I love being outside!
I’m also curious about feminism. I spend a lot of time thinking about small interactions I experience, and if I’m being treated differently because I’m female, or if it’s just in my head. Combined with Julie’s gender experiences, and a little more research, this could make for an interesting future Ants musical.
Julie Beth: Human dynamics, gender, community, identity, how do other people’s minds work? How to deliver messages through music? When different voices deliver the same content, do people hear different messages? I love learning about things that a whole community knows about and I’ve never heard of.
FringeArts: What else are you looking forward to this Fringe?
Ants on a Log: During Fringe, so many places that aren’t typical venues become venues. Art takes over the world—as it always should! We also can’t wait to see our friend and creative consultant Emily Schuman in Bon Iver Fights a Bear!
FringeArts: Thanks Ants!
What: Curious: Think Outside the Pipeline (see Fringe Festival show Music for Children and Other Curious People)
When: September 15 + 22, 2018
Where: Children’s Community School, 1212 South 47th Street in West Philly (9/15)
By My Side, 1542 E Montgomery Avenue , at Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Atonement in Fishtown (9/22)
Created and performed by Ants on a Log