Children young and old will delight in a trip down Memory Lane this Sunday, when Carole and Paula, stars of the popular 1970s show The Magic Garden, come to the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
“It’s not only a nostalgia trip for Magic Garden fans and their families, but really a family-oriented show that can be fully enjoyed by people who have no idea what The Magic Garden is or was,” says Carole Demas, one-half of the duo who appeared on the WPIX-11 show during its 1972–1984 run. The children’s show featured the two friends teaching through stories and songs in a cheerful garden setting.
In addition to music and performances from Sherlock the puppeteer, the interactive Westhampton Beach show will include clips from the original Magic Garden. “We consider ourselves pretty brave to get up there on stage with ourselves in 1972,” says Demas. “Or crazy!” Paula Janis chimes in.
“Not only [will the audience] remember what they loved as children when they see The Magic Garden on the screen, but it also makes them very happy to [realize] that the friendship that they felt such a part of when they watched our show was not a ‘made up for television’ thing,” says Janis. “We have now been friends for 61 years.”
The duo met a in high school, and reconnected after college when they independently decided to enroll in graduate school for education at New York University. They didn’t realize that they were in the same program until the professor was doing roll call on the first day. “The two of us [were] jumping up and down screaming,” recalls Janis of the moment she heard her friend’s name.
The two graduated, and soon found themselves teaching together in a double kindergarten in Brooklyn. Janis had landed the job, but her fellow teacher failed to show up on the first day. “I called Carole and she came rushing over,” says Janis. The two taught 50 students in the morning and 50 in the afternoon. The seeds for The Magic Garden were planted during those teaching years, as they turned to songs and stories to reach their kindergarteners, many of whom were in a classroom for the first time.
During the summers, the duo turned their sights on the New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park. “I had worked for two summers with the Champlain Shakespeare Festival, and I had been an minstrel and played small roles,” begins Demas. “I wondered why they didn’t have minstrels at [the New York festival], because the line waiting to get people into the theater was long. People waited forever. This is the perfect place for that to happen.” Demas and Janis wrote a letter to the head of the New York Shakespeare Festival offering up themselves and their two brothers as minstrels. They were called in for an audition, and before they had finished their four rehearsed songs, they had the gig.
The Magic Garden was born almost 10 years later, but its roots lie in the experiences from their early-20s. Demas always had dreams of being on Broadway, where she ultimately landed. But in the early 1970s, she got a call from WPIX to audition for a children’s show. “There was a mandate…which forced all stations to run a certain number of hours of quality programming for children,” Demas says. WPIX wanted a host for a cartoon show, but Demas steered the network in the direction of a team show with Janis, and The Magic Garden was born.
The show was a hit, and all are invited to meet the duo in person after the performance on Sunday. “It moves [fans] tremendously to see us, and it’s very moving for us too,” Demas says.
Carole and Paula perform at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach, on November 22 at 2 p.m. For tickets ($35, $25, $20) and more information, visit whbpac.org or call 631-288-1500.