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Two Planet- and Family-Friendly Performances at Rowan College in Honor of Earth Day

By Carolyn M. Brown,

originally published: 04/14/2023

Two Planet- and Family-Friendly Performances at Rowan College in Honor of Earth Day

Rowan University’s College of Performing Arts, home of the Marie Rader Presenting Series, will present two planet- and family-friendly performances April 23, the solar-powered mobile stage show “The Puppet Cycle: Small World Stories,” followed by bestselling author and composer Dan Brown’s “Wild Symphony,” a presentation of nearly two dozen musical portraits drawn from the animal kingdom for young audiences.

This engagement, which is taking place in honor of Earth Day, is hosted by Rowan University and co-presented by the Sound Planet Music Festival, which was founded in 2023 by conductor and educator Joseph Higgins to present impactful performances and learning opportunities focused on the climate and biodiversity crises.

Dan Brown is the man behind the No. 1 bestselling novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” which was heralded for its exciting twists, turns and surprises. The 2003 mystery thriller was turned into the 2006 feature film starring A-lister Tom Hanks. Brown was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2005 and his novels are published in 56 languages around the world with over 200 million copies in print.

Two Planet- and Family-Friendly Performances at Rowan College in Honor of Earth Day

Cover of “Wild Symphony.” (Artwork by Susan Batori)

“Wild Symphony” is a bestselling children’s picture book that features a mouse conductor who recruits a menagerie of animals to perform in an orchestra, while delivering proverbs about the virtues of fortitude, patience and cooperation. Brown’s newest live stage adaptation of “Wild Symphony” unveils the novelist as a lifelong musician and composer who was inspired at a young age by “Peter and the Wolf,” “The Carnival of the Animals,” and “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”

“Wild Symphony” reportedly springs to life onstage from the joyous rhythms of “Bouncing Kangaroo” to the mysterious melodies of “Wondrous Whale” to the hair-raising harmonies of “Brilliant Bat.” Brown’s “Wild Symphony” brings beetles, bats, boars, and other species from throughout the animal kingdom together for a special concert. New York-based stage and screen actor Matt Dallal narrates the story while the Rowan University Wind Ensemble performs the score, bringing the majestic story to life.

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“There’s power in words and images,” says Debbie Shapiro, artistic director of the Marie Rader Presenting Series. In the latest incarnation of “Wild Symphony,” she adds, “words are paired with music to identify a diverse animal kingdom and to embrace all these different kinds of animals. What's underscored is that there’s an ecosystem. We want to create a world where all of these animals we're talking about can thrive and are still here down the road. That's (in part) the motivation behind this (performance).”

Two Planet- and Family-Friendly Performances at Rowan College in Honor of Earth Day

Dan Brown at the piano (Photo by Ty Ueda).

It may come as a surprise to some that Brown is a composer and singer-songwriter turned author. He has played the piano since he was a young child, having learned the craft from his mother who was a piano teacher and church organist. “Wild Symphony” is based on songs that Brown composed and self-produced some 30 years ago, back when he was an aspiring musician in his 20s — long before he had published any of his novels.

In an interview with The New York Times, Brown described the common threads in composing music and writing fiction. ‘To write a song or a piece of classical music, you have to understand structure, you have to understand tension and release. Good musical lines ask a question and give an answer. You can’t have five chase scenes in a row, the same way you can’t have five fortissimos in a row. You need that interstitial material to let the listener, or the reader breathe,’ he explained in the article “The Many Sides of Dan Brown.”

The in person performance of “Wild Symphony” kicks off Sunday, April 23, at 3 p.m. in the Pfleeger Concert Hall at Rowan University. Visit for further details and tickets. 

On Sunday at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on the Wilson Hall patio, the Phantom Limb Company will present “The Puppet Cycle: Small World Stories,” showcasing original short plays starring contemporary artist-made marionettes on a solar-powered mobile stage — a specially adapted cargo bike. “The Puppet Cycle” brings an environmental focus to bear in this latest endeavor by The Phantom Limb Company, a New York City-based partnership known for its distinctive storytelling, social engagement and sophisticated visual style.

Two Planet- and Family-Friendly Performances at Rowan College in Honor of Earth Day

Phantom Limb Co.’s Puppet Cycle (Photo by Argenis Apolinario)

Installation artist, painter and set designer Jessica Grindstaff and composer and puppet maker Erik Sanko co-founded the company in 2007. The theater activists see themselves as truth seekers, storytellers and deep believers in the power of collaboration to inspire engagement and action. Their company includes a large rotating cast of friends, artists, dancers and puppeteers. Collaging puppetry, movement, multimedia storytelling and design, the company’s unique integration of social impact and aesthetics is essential to their work.

Working in collaboration with playwrights Jen Silverman and Dipika Guha, “The Puppet Cycle” is an all ages performance that references serious topics including sadness and fear of dying. The playlets are designed to help adults and the children in their lives to talk about these topics and locate hope in the shadow of so much uncertainty.

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“We know how hard it is to talk about climate change,” says Shapiro. “It's such a big, big concept, and it can sometimes be difficult to process that and think about it. So, these plays try to take a gentle, artful approach to addressing that feeling and that experience.” Shapiro views “The Puppet Cycles” as a value-added bonus in Marie Rader Presenting Series lineup. As of this writing, both shows of “The Puppet Cycle” are sold out.

Two Planet- and Family-Friendly Performances at Rowan College in Honor of Earth Day

Rowan University’s Pfleeger Concert Hall (Photo by Craig Terry)

The Marie Rader Presenting Series was established in 2008 through the Rowan Family Foundation to honor a good friend of the Rowan family and a loyal patron of the arts — Marie Rader. Shapiro notes that the series brings exceptional artists to campus, enriching the university community and the Greater Southern New Jersey region through expanded performing arts programming, bolstering a robust academic program in dance, music and theater. “It honors the institution’s legacy of serving Glassboro and the surrounding community through arts programming,” adds Shapiro.

“We’re looking to inspire a community. We're looking not just to entertain, but to really find deep connections and inspire conversations about culture with the artists that we bring in,” Shapiro says. “One of the easiest ways to make sure that this programming is diverse and inclusive is by selecting artists, companies, and ensembles that haven't traditionally had a lot of representation or spotlighting on our stage different cultural art forms, because we know that our existing audience, our desired audience, and our student population here are a diverse group.”

For more information on the Marie Rader Presenting series visit

About the author: Carolyn M. Brown is an investigative journalist, editor, author, playwright, multimedia content producer and an entrepreneur. She has produced content spanning across a portfolio of platforms, including print, digital media, broadcast, theater arts, and custom events. Her publication credits include Essence, Forbes, Inc., and Diversity Woman magazines. She is a founding board member of the Paterson Performing Arts Development Council, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing together diverse communities through the performing arts and cultural events and to creating pathways for new and established artists.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.




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