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'The Troupe of Ten' | Ep. 163

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Have you ever gone to the theater to see a show?

Did you know that back in the olden days, theater often came to you? It’s true! A troupe (or group) of traveling actors would roam from city to city and village to village, performing in town squares, town halls, and marketplaces.

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    In today’s story we’ll meet a troupe of actors who always bring down the house – until they’re nearly brought down themselves!

    Our story is called “The Troupe of Ten.” It’s inspired by tales told in the East African country of Ethiopia and the Caribbean country of Haiti.

    Voices in this episode include Kevin Corbett, Edward Hong, Hrishikesh Hirway, Igor Shimelonis, Nick Sholley, Amory Sivertson, Mike Smith, Alexia Trainor, Malia Baker, Kelly Jenrette, and Kenny Leu.

    Malia Baker stars in the Netflix series The Baby-Sitters Club, as well as Are You Afraid of the Dark on Nickelodeon. Emmy-nominated actress Kelly Jenrette stars in the CW sports series, All American: Homecoming. You can also hear her in our season-four episode, “The Extraordinary Pine Cone.” Kenny Leu stars in the new dramatic film, A Shot Through the Wall. Grown-ups, you can also see Kenny in the epic drama Midway, along with the Nat Geo miniseries The Long Road Home.

    This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by supervising producer Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

    Coloring Page

    (Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
    (Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

    ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes, click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

    Things To Think About After Listening

    You don’t have to be a professional actor to put on a show. Anyone can do it – including you!

    Pick a favorite story (a book you enjoy, maybe even an episode of Circle Round!) and perform it in your own words. You could play all the characters, or you could get friends or family members to join your cast.

    Next, either write out a script or just brainstorm some scenes, then grab some costumes, find an audience, and bring your story to life! And since we here at Circle Round can’t be there to see you bring down the house, ask a grown-up to snap a photo of your show and email it to

    Musical Spotlight: The Classical Guitar 

    Since you play the classical guitar with your fingers instead of a pick, composer Eric Shimelonis has to be careful not to break any nails! (courtesy of Eric Shimelonis)
    Since you play the classical guitar with your fingers instead of a pick, composer Eric Shimelonis has to be careful not to break any nails! (courtesy of Eric Shimelonis)

    The classical guitar is known by many names, including concert guitar, classical acoustic guitar, and Spanish guitar. It usually has nylon strings, which give it a warm, smooth, lilting tone. Nylon strings are softer than steel strings (i.e. what you’ll find on a typical acoustic guitar), so you play the classical guitar in a very particular way. The most common technique involves plucking individual strings with your fingernails, as opposed to strumming chords or playing with a pick.

    But don’t be fooled by the name: just because it’s called a “classical guitar,” it doesn’t mean you only use it to play classical music. Since all five fingers are at your disposal, you can play just about anything on this instrument!


    NARRATOR: There once was a troupe of actors. Ten talented performers, young and old, who traveled the country, putting on show after show – making their audiences laugh and cry and think.

    The actors believed theater should be available to everyone, whether they were as rich as a lord or poor as a church mouse. So they didn’t charge a cent for their shows; instead, they put on every performance for free!

    But as a result, the actors didn’t have much money themselves. So everywhere they went, they relied on the kindness of strangers. And most of the time, the troupe was greeted with open arms.

    [SOT: knock, door opens]

    ACTOR 2: Greetings, sir!

    ACTOR 3: Now that we’re done performing for the day…

    ACTOR 4: …might you share a morsel with some hungry actors?

    KIND MAN: Oh I can do more than ‘share a morsel’! I can offer you a meal! Please – join me and my family for dinner!

    [SOT: knock, door opens]

    ACTOR 5: Good evening, ma’am!

    ACTOR 6: We couldn’t help but notice this beautiful inn of yours.

    ACTOR 7: Might you spare a bed or two for the night?

    KIND WOMAN: I can spare plenty of beds for a talented troupe like yours! Come in! Come in!

    NARRATOR: But there was one place where the troupe of ten received anything but a warm welcome.

    [SOT: knock on large door, large door opens]

    ACTOR 8: Greetings!

    ACTOR 9: It’s awfully hot out and we performers are parched!

    ACTOR 10: Could you kindly share some cold water with a humble group of –

    [SOT: large door slam]

    NARRATOR: And I am sorry to say that this one place… was the royal palace. Home of the King and Queen.

    You see, while everyone else in the country loved how the actors entertained them, making them laugh and cry and think, the King and Queen did not.

    KING: My dear Queen! Can you believe that ragamuffin troupe of actors had the nerve to knock at our palace door yet again?!??

    QUEEN: Who do those clowns think they are, anyway?!? Prancing about in cities, towns, and villages and telling their little stories?!?

    KING: And trying to make us laugh?!?

    QUEEN: And cry?!?

    KING: And think?!?

    QUEEN: And then they expect us to help support them?

    KING: We must do something to tarnish this troupe’s good name!

    QUEEN: And show our people what good-for-nothing free-loaders these actors truly are!

    NARRATOR: So the King and Queen tried coming up with a plan. They considered one option…

    KING: How about…!?!? (pause) Nah. Forget it.

    NARRATOR: …then another…

    QUEEN: Oh, I know! What if we…? (pause) Nah. Scratch that.

    NARRATOR: Until finally…

    KING: / QUEEN: A-HA!!

    NARRATOR: …they cooked up a scheme they were certain would work.

    They began by summoning the royal chefs.

    KING: Chefs, we want you to cook up a big breakfast – enough eggs, pancakes, porridge and tea for at least ten people!

    QUEEN: Then set it up outside, in the marble courtyard in front of the palace!

    NARRATOR: Next, the King and Queen summoned the royal treasurers.

    KING: Treasurers, we want you to collect a big bag of gold coins from the royal treasury!

    QUEEN: Then take the coins and scatter them all over the marble courtyard in front of the palace!

    NARRATOR: Finally, they summoned the royal messengers.

    KING: Messengers, we want you to send an invitation to every member of the traveling acting troupe.

    QUEEN: Tell them they’re invited to breakfast in the marble courtyard in front of the palace, tomorrow!

    NARRATOR: The royal chefs, treasurers and messengers got right down to work, cooking food, gathering coins, and delivering invitations.

    And as the king and queen went to bed that night, and thought about their brilliant scheme, they couldn't help… but smile.

    [theme music in]

    NARRATOR: What “brilliant scheme” do you think the king and queen are cooking up?

    And what will become of the troupe of ten actors?

    We’ll find out, after a quick break.

    [theme music out]


    [theme music in]

    NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “The Troupe of Ten.”

    [theme music out]

    NARRATOR: Before the break, the King and Queen were hatching a plot to ruin the good name of a traveling acting troupe. So they invited the ten performers to breakfast in the courtyard in front of the palace.

    When the actors received the invitation…

    ACTOR 2: Breakfast…!?

    ACTOR 3: …in the palace courtyard?!?

    NARRATOR: …they could hardly believe it!

    ACTOR 4: But the King and Queen despise us!

    ACTOR 5: They think we’re the worst!

    ACTOR 6: Every time we knock on their door…

    ACTOR 7: …they slam it in our face!

    ACTOR 8: (thinking about it, hopeful) But maybe…

    ACTOR 9: (thinking about it, hopeful) …if they’re inviting us to breakfast…

    ACTOR 10: (thinking about it, hopeful) …they’ve changed their minds!

    TROUPE LEADER: Or maybe not!

    NARRATOR: The leader of the acting troupe couldn’t help but feel skeptical.

    TROUPE LEADER: Ya know, I can’t help but feel skeptical! After the cold shoulder the King and Queen have given us all these years, I trust them as far as I can throw them. And even though I work out, I doubt I can throw them very far. (beat) So listen. You know what an early riser I am. Tomorrow, I will wake before sunrise, sneak over to the palace, then see if there’s any funny business going on. If there is, I’ll make sure we’re the ones who have the last laugh!

    NARRATOR: Early the next morning, when the troupe leader snuck over to the palace and peered into the courtyard, her eyes widened as she beheld the wide-open space, its gleaming floor made of pure white marble. The whole thing was surrounded by marble columns, and lined with lush plants sprouting from fancy porcelain pots.
    But in the middle of the courtyard, the troupe leader spied something that made her eyes grow even wider! The royal treasurers were holding big bags of gold coins, and sprinkling the coins all over the gleaming marble floor!

    TREASURER 1: (with a gleeful laugh) Can you believe this plan the King and Queen have cooked up?

    TREASURER 2: (with a gleeful laugh) It’s brilliant!

    TREASURER 1: When those good-for-nothing actors arrive and see all this gold lying on the ground, it’s just a matter of time before at least one of them bends down and stuffs their pockets with coins!

    TREASURER 2: Then they’ll be arrested for stealing! The troupe’s reputation will be ruined, and that’ll be the end of them!

    TREASURER 1: / TREASURER 2: (ad-lib laughter)

    NARRATOR: Now that the troupe leader knew what the King and Queen were up to…

    TROUPE LEADER: So that’s what the King and Queen are up to!

    NARRATOR: …she didn’t waste a minute.

    TROUPE LEADER: I mustn’t waste a minute!

    NARRATOR: She darted back to where the troupe was staying and rummaged through their costumes, props, and sets until she found what she was looking for.

    TROUPE LEADER: A tin of wax. This’ll be perfect!

    NARRATOR: She shoved the tin of wax in her pocket, then woke everybody up.

    TROUPE LEADER: Wake up, everybody! The King and Queen are expecting us for breakfast in just a few minutes! Since time is so short, all I’ll say is this. When you get to the palace courtyard, do not pick anything up off the ground! No matter what! In fact, don’t even look down, if you can help it. Now let’s go!

    NARRATOR: The troupe of ten got all ready and bustled over to the palace. When the actors walked into the courtyard, the King and Queen greeted them with big, phony grins.

    KING: (with a fake smile) Welcome, dear actors!

    QUEEN: (with a fake smile) It’s an honor to have you!

    KING: Please! Eat all you want!

    QUEEN: And enjoy!

    NARRATOR: The king and queen kept a watchful eye as the actors ate and drank and mingled. But to the royal couple’s surprise, not one of the performers bent down to pick up any gold!

    And yet, after breakfast was finished, and the actors said goodbye and left…

    KING: What on earth?!??

    QUEEN: It can’t be!!!

    NARRATOR: …not one gold coin was left on the ground!

    KING: Those sly devils made off with our coins!

    QUEEN: Yet we didn’t see them do it!

    NARRATOR: The King and Queen were determined to catch whichever of the actors stole the gold coins. So they cooked up another scheme.

    KING: We’ll ask the actors to attend a party in the palace ballroom this evening! With the finest food, the finest drink, and the finest music!

    QUEEN: And we’ll invite the actors to spend the night! Each in their own spacious room!

    KING: We’ll tell our guards to stay alert during the festivities, and find out which of the actors stole the gold coins.

    QUEEN: Once they discover who’s guilty, they won’t say a word. Instead, after the party they’ll sneak into their room, and draw an ink mark on their left hand while they sleep!

    KING: The next morning, you and I will spot the ink mark, seize the culprit…

    QUEEN: …and lock them up in jail!

    KING: / QUEEN: (ad-lib self-satisfied laughter)

    NARRATOR: So the King and Queen sent the troupe another invitation, for a dinner party that very same night.

    [SOT: party music]

    NARRATOR: Again, the actors were surprised, but they decided why not? We’ll go to a dinner party at the palace!

    And when they filed into the grand ballroom, the King and Queen greeted them with even bigger, phonier grins than they did that morning in the courtyard.

    KING: (with an even faker smile) Greetings, beloved actors!

    QUEEN: (with an even faker smile) We’re delighted to see you again!

    KING: Please! Enjoy the food, drink, and music!

    QUEEN: And enjoy your spacious rooms! We are honored to have you as our guests.

    [SOT: party hubbub + music]

    NARRATOR: The King and Queen posted guards all over the ballroom. And as the guests dined and drank and danced, one of the guards happened to overhear a young actor talking with the troupe leader.

    ACTOR 6: All of us actors are dying to know! How did you make off with the gold coins this morning? Can you share your secret?

    NARRATOR: The troupe leader gave the boy a smile.

    TROUPE LEADER: Well, I probably shouldn't talk about it here, but with all this food, drink, and music, it isn’t like anybody’s listening. (beat) The secret… was wax!

    ACTOR 6: Wax?!??

    TROUPE LEADER: Yes! I put wax all over the bottom of my shoes! Then, as I walked around the marble courtyard, the coins got stuck to the wax! And the king and queen were none the wiser!

    ACTOR 6: That’s brilliant!

    TROUPE LEADER: It is, isn’t it. (beat) But here’s the thing. I just wanted to teach the King and Queen a lesson! Remember those big potted plants that were surrounding the courtyard? Before we left, I secretly – [stops short]

    NARRATOR: The troupe leader stopped short. For out of the corner of her eye she noticed one of the palace guards giving her a strange look.

    The troupe leader was certain she’d been overheard, and that her goose was cooked. Yet for the rest of the party, nothing happened! The guard never said a word!

    [SOT: party hubbub/music fades out]

    NARRATOR: Later that night, when the food, dance and drink came to an end, the actors retired to their spacious rooms to go to bed. Their mattresses were softer than bags of marshmallows, and one by one…

    [SOT: the below will overlap, for a quick montage effect]

    ACTOR 2: (ad-lib sleep/snore)

    ACTOR 3: (ad-lib sleep/snore)

    ACTOR 4: (ad-lib sleep/snore)

    NARRATOR: …room by room…

    ACTOR 5: (ad-lib sleep/snore)

    ACTOR 6: (ad-lib sleep/snore)

    ACTOR 7: (ad-lib sleep/snore)

    NARRATOR: …all of the actors fell asleep.

    ACTOR 8: (ad-lib sleep/snore)

    ACTOR 9: (ad-lib sleep/snore)

    ACTOR 10: (ad-lib sleep/snore)

    NARRATOR: …well, all of the actors except for one: the troupe leader. Even though the guard had left her alone for the rest of the party, she was nervous.

    TROUPE LEADER: I am so nervous!

    NARRATOR: But she was also tired.

    TROUPE LEADER: But I’m also tired!

    NARRATOR: So she settled down in the luxurious satin sheets…

    TROUPE LEADER: (contented sigh as she settles down)

    NARRATOR: …and joined her fellow actors in dreamland.

    TROUPE LEADER: (ad-lib sleep/snore)

    NARRATOR: A little while later, she was dreaming so deeply that she didn’t hear her door creak open…

    [SOT: creak]

    NARRATOR: … and she didn’t see the palace guard come tiptoeing into her room. The same palace guard who’d overheard her talking about the gold coins at the party!
    Quick as a wink, the guard did exactly as the King and Queen instructed: he grabbed a bottle of ink from the desk in the corner, and made a mark on the troupe leader’s left hand. Then he put the ink bottle back, crept out of the room, and softly closed the door.

    [SOT: soft door close]

    NARRATOR: Now… you may recall that the troupe leader was an early riser. So even though her mattress was softer than a bag of marshmallows, she woke before dawn. But when she opened her eyes…

    TROUPE LEADER: What’s this?!??

    NARRATOR: …she spotted the ink mark on her left hand!

    TROUPE LEADER: Where did this come from? I didn’t spill ink on myself last night! That could only mean somebody came in here and… (GASP as she figures it out)

    NARRATOR: The troupe leader’s eyes fell on the ink bottle in the corner. Suddenly she understood exactly what the King and Queen were up to.

    TROUPE LEADER: I understand exactly what the King and Queen are up to! (beat) And two can play at this game. In fact, everyone can!

    NARRATOR: Without wasting a minute, the troupe leader grabbed the ink bottle, and made for the door – with a skip in her step and a scheme in her head.

    Later that morning, the King and Queen summoned the actors to the throne room – supposedly to say a ‘proper goodbye,’ but you know what the King and Queen really wanted, right?

    To catch the thief! And make their big arrest!

    So when the troupe leader came walking in, and the King and Queen saw her left hand, their eyes lit up!

    KING: You have an ink mark on your left hand!

    QUEEN: So you are guilty of stealing the gold coins!

    NARRATOR: But then the second actor walked in.

    KING: You have an ink mark on your left hand!

    QUEEN: So you are guilty, too!

    NARRATOR: Then the third actor walked in.

    KING: You have an ink mark, too?!?

    NARRATOR: Then the fourth.

    QUEEN: And you?!??

    NARRATOR: Then the fifth.

    KING: And you?!?

    NARRATOR: And so on and so on…

    QUEEN: And you?!? And you?!? And YOU?!?

    NARRATOR: All the way down to… the tenth.

    KING: And you…!??

    QUEEN: So all of you are guilty?!?

    TROUPE LEADER: With all due respect, Your Majesties, we could ask you the same question!

    NARRATOR: The King and Queen gave the troupe leader a blank stare.

    TROUPE LEADER: Go ahead! Look at your hands! Tell me what you see!

    NARRATOR: The royal couple glanced down at their hands. And can you guess what they saw?

    Their left hands… were marked with ink!

    TROUPE LEADER: And your guards! Looks like they’re guilty too!

    NARRATOR: The guards all stared at their hands. Indeed, their left hands were also marked with ink!

    KING: But that’s now how our plan was supposed to work!

    QUEEN: What is going on here?

    NARRATOR: Indeed! What was going on here?

    Do you know the answer to the Queen’s question?

    Well, earlier that morning, while everyone else was still sleeping... the troupe leader went quickly and quietly from room to room, making ink marks on the hands of all her fellow actors... and the King and Queen... and their guards!

    And now the King and Queen didn’t know what was what.

    KING: But this isn’t right!

    QUEEN: We’re not the guilty ones!

    TROUPE LEADER: Not guilty of stealing, perhaps. But guilty of trying to tarnish the good name of a humble troupe of actors! An honest bunch of performers who seek only to entertain people! To make them laugh and cry and think! (beat) And if you would have looked a little more carefully, you would have found your gold coins.

    Check out the palace courtyard. Your pot of gold awaits.

    NARRATOR: The guards hurried to the courtyard and indeed, hidden in one of the potted plants, they found the King and Queen’s gold coins.

    So the actors went free, and continued traveling the country, putting on performance after performance.

    And everywhere they went, they always stole the show… and nothing else.

    Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
    Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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