Stuart Stotts helps to relaunch family-favorite Kids in the Rotunda series

Stuart Stotts smiling for the camera on State Street

“I love the Rotunda stage and can’t imagine a better family performance space.”

Storyteller and songwriter Stuart Stotts was the first performer at Kids in the Rotunda when Overture Center opened its doors back in September 2004. So appropriately, Stotts will be the first performer on the Rotunda stage when Kids in the Rotunda relaunches next month after being canceled since March 2020.

The Kids in the Rotunda series kicks off with a virtual show on Saturday, Jan. 8, headlining Stotts and children’s musician Tom Pease. While both have performed on the Rotunda stage in the past, they have not performed there formally together.

“We’ve been at the other’s shows so have dragged each other on stage to sing together informally, but this will be the first time we do the whole show together,” said Stotts.

The duo will sing songs and share folk tales in a family-friendly concert livestreamed via the Kids in the Rotunda Facebook page.

Stotts and Pease met through the Midwest Music Network 40 years ago. The two men ended up running into each other often and quickly became friends. Pease recorded one of Stotts’ songs on his first album, and they teamed up to do their first arts residency at a kindergarten center in Manitowoc, Wis., in 1998, which continued for 20 years.

“We have a natural fit,” said Stotts. “I am a writer, and Tom is a performer. He brings the magic to a performance with his unique ability to have a good time, engage with the kids and elicit reactions.”

Both agree that making music with younger kids requires lots of movement, participation and input. They choose songs that are uplifting and easy for kids to learn.

One of the songs most sung by Stotts and Pease is “Eight Hugs a Day.” Other favorites include “When I Grow Up” and “Daddy Starts to Dance.” Stotts has written hundreds of songs, finding inspiration wherever he goes.

“Songwriters and poets tend to walk around with a certain lens, always looking for an idea or a story, always looking for that phrase or six-word line for a song title,” he explained.

Over the past year and a half of the pandemic, Stotts hasn’t performed much, except in a few virtual shows. Instead, he committed to writing one new song a week, released on Facebook Live. (That’s nearly 80 songs so far!) The weekly ritual has proven to be a good way for Stotts to reinforce his songwriting skills and keep playing music on his terms as he, like most musicians, adjusts to a new reality.

Titles of his pandemic songs include “Contagious,” “Smiling with My Eyes” and “See You on the Screen.”

Stotts finds joy in writing, but he understands the words are less important than the experience of singing together.

He shares this lesson in his work with the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., where for the past two decades he has led extensive teacher training in music and storytelling. He equips teachers with artistic tools they can use in the classroom to help students learn.

“I can’t teach them how to play a guitar, but I can show them how to use music to bolster engagement, foster creativity and build relationships,” said Stotts.

When performing with children, Stotts appreciates their willingness to join in and laugh.

“Kids make it obvious what’s working and what’s not,” he said. “And the surprises, like when they say something you don’t expect, make it so much fun.”

Stotts looks forward to performing for Kids in the Rotunda in January. While this performance will be livestreamed, he can’t wait to someday return in person to the Rotunda stage and be surrounded by children again.

“I love the Rotunda stage and can’t imagine a better family performance space,” he said. “It’s not too big or too formal and has comfortable, carpeted seating where everybody can see and great acoustics. It’s a dedicated space made for this type of performance with little ones.”

According to Stotts, Kids in the Rotunda is a great example of why Madison is known as a family-friendly city. The program offers free shows with quality entertainment designed for children and their parents.

Through his performances, Stotts wants families to enjoy being together, having a simple kind of fun with engaging, appropriate music.

“I want people to recognize the joy of live performance and be present in the moment,” said Stotts. “It’s all about the experience we have together.”

Stuart Stotts and Tom Pease perform at a virtual Kids in the Rotunda on Saturday, Jan. 8 at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Check the Kids in the Rotunda Facebook page for updates.

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