Aurand Harris was primarily an educator, beginning his teaching career in public schools in Indiana and Missouri, North America, and famously wrote a total of 36 children’s plays in his lifetime. Harris was helped in his pursuit of creating educative plays for the new audience of young people by Winifred May Ward, a pioneer in the creation of children’s theatre and culture.
Initially, Harris wished to write plays aimed at a more mature audience and designed for Broadway. After a number of failed attempts to break into the Broadway scene, he turned he focus to children’s theatre. What was Broadway’s loss, turned into children’s theatre’s blessing. Harris used a variety of techniques in creating theatre for children, usually through his signature of combining vaudeville, melodrama and commedia dell`arte. His plays are constructed with a balanced amount of comedy, sensitivity and emotion, that they invite adults to indulge in their richness of feelings and for children to broaden their learning.
A Toby Show (1978) is just one of the many famous works written by Aurand Harris. Others include Androcles and the Lion (1964), The Arkansaw Bear (1980) and Rags to Riches (1966). In 1988, Harris pioneered the sharing of this form of youth culture when he travelled to China and directed a translated version of Rags to Riches at the Shanghai Children’s Art Theatre, marking the first time a Western children’s play had been performed for Chinese children.
Aurand Harris had become one of the most produced playwrights in America and rightly so! In 1976, the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship awarded Harris with a National Endowment, making him the first ever children’s playwright to receive one and, in 1985, he was inducted into the College Fellows of the American Theatre.
As a visionary of children’s theatre, Harris has impacted how we create, present and understand theatre for young people and through the years, his work has informed many young people, both creatively and pedagogically.