With more than 35 years of traveling and performing together, Jay and Leslie Cady are nowhere near slowing down.
In fact, they’re looking to expand the regular territory they cover as the duo “Laughing Matters,” providing education through fun to schools and libraries.
They’re in Hays this week to perform their show “Sum of Our Favorite Numbers” at area schools, capping off their first day on Monday at Holy Family Elementary School. Earlier in the day, they performed in Plainville at the public grade school and Sacred Heart Grade School.
On Tuesday, they were at Roosevelt and Lincoln elementary schools in Hays.
On Thursday, they’ll have a public performance at the Hays Public Library, 1200 Main, starting at 6:30 p.m. It’s free to attend for all ages.
They have performed in Hays for at least 25 years, at least by the best guess from the couple and Brenda Meder, director of the Hays Arts Council, which presents their performances every year.
“One of the first times we came was a downtown festival, and Brenda babysat our youngest daughter, who was in a stroller. She just turned 28,” Jay said after Monday’s Holy Family assembly in the gym.
Their weeklong residency here is made possible by a grant from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, part of the Kansas Department of Commerce, Meder said.
The Hays visit is one of the duo’s favorites, they said.
“A full week in one place is a nice luxury,” Jay said.
But working with the Hays Arts Council is also a plus, they said.
“We really do admire the work the Hays Arts Council does,” Leslie said. “We are Kansas residents, so we work with a lot of arts councils in Kansas, and while they all have good things about them, the Hays Arts Council is truly exceptional.”
“Brenda is extremely organized,” Jay said.
Summer is the busiest time of the year for the duo, when they coordinate performances with library reading programs.
They generally travel throughout South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Iowa, but have performed in 36 states and seven countries.
They live in Kansas City, where one daughter is a children’s librarian. Their other daughter manages a small theater in Rhode Island.
“So we’re trying to do more work in New England. We’ve got a show in Connecticut on the 23rd of this month,” Leslie said. “There will be people there from schools all over Connecticut and hopefully some of them will invite us back in the spring."
The duo has a repertoire of about 11 shows they present on STEAM education — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — through juggling, skits, magic, audience participation and comedy for their young audiences, but they also include topical subjects and listen to what educators need, they said.
Every four years they present a program on the presidential elections.
“In 2000, when the popular vote and the electoral college didn’t match up, we had to explain that to our own children,” Leslie said. “That’s now happened twice in the last 20 years that we’ve had a president that the electoral vote and the popular vote didn’t match.
“So when things come up in life and you go ‘people should be able to explain that,’ we go ‘we’ll try and do that.’ We take all the theatrical tricks we have and use those to make it entertaining to try and get good curriculum concepts behind it."
Monday’s performance at Holy Family seemed to get through to the children, as Jay and Leslie, while juggling colored beanbags, illustrated square numbers and used rolls of toilet paper to teach the concept of the remainder in division.
Jay instructed Leslie to divide the 13 rolls of toilet paper by different numbers, leaving a single roll left over each time, much to Leslie’s frustration.
“That one!” she would shout and point after each division, with the children screaming in laughter each time.
There was even a bit of a language lesson through puns in a skit about a queen under a spell that made her want to measure everything.
Last year’s language arts show, “Tales with a Point,” was a brand-new show. That one and “Sum of our Favorite Numbers” were both suggested by teachers, Leslie said.
“You have to keep reinventing yourself,” Jay said.
“We love what we do so much, and writing new shows is a part of that,” Leslie said.