Tom Pease performs with his best friend in a Kids in the Rotunda double-headliner

Tom Pease playing guitar in front of a red curtain

“Everybody there is a part of the show, all swinging and singing together.”

Children’s performer Tom Pease talks about his career by phone from his kitchen in Amherst, Wis., as he bakes chocolate chip cookies, a recipe he has perfected during his downtime during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I had to learn how to bake cookies for my grandkids,” said Pease, grandpa to a five-year-old and two-year-old who live nearby on the family property.

A grandpa who plays guitar and loves to sing, dance and be silly (and who bakes), Pease is a natural with young children. For 40 years, he has performed at libraries, schools, festivals and more—including Overture’s Kids in the Rotunda.

With his best friend Stuart Stotts, Pease looks forward to kicking off the 2022 Kids in the Rotunda season on Saturday, Jan. 8 with a virtual, streamed performance. Singers, songwriters, storytellers and family performers, the duo delights in participation, humor, movement and filling the Rotunda with the sounds of families singing together.

“Working with Stuart is delightful,” said Pease. “We love to joke with each other and talk almost every day.”

But for all the talking the friends do, they don’t have a formulated plan for their performance together.

“We don’t do set shows, but rather sing songs that are ‘in the moment’ and celebrate being together and building community,” he explained. “It’s really all about the kids, and we’re just the guide.”

Pease formerly worked in environmental education as a naturalist/teacher in California. He then moved to his brother’s farm in Wisconsin to learn animal husbandry, carpentry and masonry skills. After a few years, he began to miss working with kids. Music was his vehicle back to them.

“I prefer performing for kids because they like to sing and dance―and because they say the darndest things,” said Pease. “Kids are right there with you in the moment, not as reserved as adults.”

He especially loves performing on Overture Center’s Rotunda Stage, describing it as an ideal setting for a participatory show, similar to a campfire setting from his camp days. Pease appreciates the Overture staff who create a welcoming atmosphere and professional production.

“The Rotunda Stage is so intimate for a 300-seat theater, which is what I love most about it,” said Pease. “There’s really no separation between the performer and the audience, which is conducive in building community and singing together.”

After taking more than a year off during the pandemic, Pease is happy to be performing again, but not at the same rate as pre-pandemic. This summer he performed 20 times, compared to 60-80 shows pre-pandemic. He has learned to savor a slower pace that allows more time for his family and friends.

He also welcomes more time writing songs with Stotts. They have released several beloved recordings, including “Celebrate,” “Everybody Started Out Small” and, their newest, “Pass It on Down, Volume 1.”

Pease and Stotts will perform their favorite songs―and whichever ones fit the moment—at Kids in the Rotunda. This summer, one of Pease’s most played songs was Melanie DeMore’s “Lead with Love.”

“It’s an uplifting song for everybody and has verses about tough stuff, very appropriate for what we’ve all been through the past year and a half,” he said.

Another song in Pease’s repertoire is written after a book called “Hey Little Ant” by Phil Hoose about bullying. Every song he sings has a meaningful message. Even if it’s subtle, there’s always something to learn.

And to learn best and have the most fun, Pease aims to involve the entire audience in his performance, even though January’s event will be virtual.

“Everybody there is a part of the show, all swinging and singing together,” he said. “It’s more of a celebration than a show.”

Pease wants kids to walk away from his performance with a great feeling of community, a joy from singing and dancing together. He encourages families to mark their calendars for the double-headliner in January.

“Kids in the Rotunda is an amazing series, an opportunity for quality entertainment in an intimate setting, a truly wonderful program for the Madison area,” he said. “It’s a really healthy way for families to spend time together.”

Tom Pease and Stuart Stotts 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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