In Former British Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen’s June 2014 Guardian article on arts education, he provides a checklist for teaching artists to keep in mind. The list has ten ideas that revolve around creating a supportive environment that encourages risk-taking, imagination, and collaboration, culminating in Number 10, that to me seems the most important. Rosen states that students should, “be encouraged to think of the arts as including or involving investigation, invention, discovery, play and co-operation and to think that these happen within the actual doing, but also in the talk, commentary and critical dialogue that goes on around the activity itself.” Not only is number 10 an excellent concept for teaching artists to keep in mind, but also acts as a fairly accurate description of how InterAct Story Theatre’s production of The Hero of Everything was an immense success.
Directed by Ali Oliver-Krueger, The Hero of Everything follows superhero Captain Everything (DeAndriea Norman) and her sidekick Grammar Girl (Brittany Martz) as they work to gather a group of superheroes to make The Amazing Alliance, including The Zapper (Shravan Amin) and Stretch Hamstring (Davon Harris). However, Captain Everything must learn that while she might be able to do everything, sometimes it is more important to work together as a team to save the day, and respect your teammates in the process.
The story was simple, but kept the kids in the audience invested. The plot included critical lessons about teamwork and respect. Even the superpowers subtly linked to those important lessons. For example, The Zapper’s ability includes freezing humans who are about to make a mistake so that they have enough time to think through their actions and change their mind. However, one of the most fascinating aspects for me was the cast’s ability to include the audience in the process, which began the moment the kids entered the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre.
The halls leading up to the theater were filled with opportunities for the kids to engage with the theme of “superheroes.” There were projects ranging from boards with sticky notes, asking kids to write down their preferred superpower, to tables with paper and markers, inviting them to make their superhero headbands and cuffs. As kids filed into the theater in their new “costumes,” the actors were waiting with notepads, inviting the young audience members to contribute their ideas for superhero and team names. At first I thought these were all simply clever modes of directing the kids’ attention towards the big theme of the play; however, I soon realized that the actors had far more creative methods of utilizing the suggestions they gathered.
Throughout the play, the actors found key moments to include the kids’ ideas to help carry the story forward. For example, at the top of the play, the actors introduced us to the “Alert” sign. Whenever “Alert” flashed across the screen, the superheroes knew they were needed to save the city. However, the actors asked the kids to create a sound they could make that could accompany the “Alert” message, which turned into a way for the kids to act as heroes to help save the city.
I was particularly impressed to find that the actors even found moments to include the superheroes that the kids created before the show began. The kids had the opportunity to see some of the heroes that only existed in their imaginations come to life to help stop the villain. In utilizing the kids’ ideas, the actors granted them a sense of ownership over the story they were watching unfold, which I noticed was especially exciting to the young boy sitting in front of me who found his made-up hero run onto the stage to save the day.
Intriguing, thrilling, and inspiring, The Hero of Everything is one production that families should not miss. As one who has a four-year-old sister, I know that forcing a child to sit still for an extended period of time can only lead to negative consequences. However, I have never before seen a group of young children so invested in a story. As Rosen suggests, the company found a way to give the audience ownership over the story, which allowed them to make discoveries with the actors. Amin, Norman, Harris, and Martz did a miraculous job engaging their audience, and I look forward to bringing my own young sister to future productions by this company.
Running Time: 55 minutes, with no intermission.
The Hero of Everything plays at 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM on Saturdays and Sundays through Sunday, September 27, 2015 at InterAct Story Theatre performing at The Silver Spring Black Box Theatre – 8641 Colesville Road in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets and information, go online.
‘The Hero of Everything’ Plays at Silver Spring Black Box Theatre 9/12-27, 2015.