There are jumping dogs, ninja fights, and double crosses. The story is fast-paced and offers many moments for kids to chime in on how the story should advance (remember Choose Your Own Adventure books?!) and feels like a live-action immersive video game.
Imagination Stage has struck gold with Spy Academy & the Lost Treasure of Atlantis and made a fantastically entertaining conglomerate of action, adventure, suspense, and pure silliness perfect for ages 5 and up. The cast is engaging and fun, and throughout the show the kids in the audience were excited and engrossed.
Imagination Stage has been a leading producer of professional theater for young children in the DMV for decades. In the absence of live theater, like many other companies, Imagination Stage has turned to creating at-home theater experiences. Their most recent production, Spy Academy & the Lost Treasure of Atlantis, plays over Zoom through May 23, 2021.
Conceptualized by Strother Gaines and written by Doug Robinson, this original experience greets audience participants as cadets showing up for their first day of spy training. But through a series of mishaps and emergencies, the newbies are called upon to assist a team of top spies, save the day, and recover the lost treasure of Atlantis.
The piece is co-directed by Gaines and Jeffrey Eagle, and the action switches between live interaction and recorded sequences (filmed by Leapfrog Productions) with news clips or security footage of the spies on assignment.
Imagination Stage describes the adventure as “part online escape room, part interactive game.” The purchase of a ticket includes a printable packet for families to prepare ahead of time, including an introductory letter to cadets, some activities and clues to use during the performance, and a certificate to be awarded to the cadets after the mission is completed.
But don’t worry if you don’t have access to a printer: items are also shared on the screen so everyone is able to participate equally.
Matthew Pauli played “Pat” (Prof. Cornelius Archimedes Pattagobhi), who serves as a guide through most of the story. (At different performances “Pat” is also played by Amanda Haddock and Jasmine Jones.) Pauli’s high energy, childlike eagerness, and kid-on-Christmas excitement is both hilarious and contagious. Pauli welcomes the audience and calls out to the cadets in attendance by chosen names you can assign once logged into the meeting—my son’s name was Cadet Limbo Llama, because obviously.
The cadets learn that the evil Dr. Levinious (Ryan Sellers) is attempting to steal the Heart of the Dragon, a recently discovered treasure from Atlantis. Spy Academy’s expert spy trio on the case are Tank (Danielle Gallo), Specs (Miss Kitty), and Locksmith (Ryan Sellers). Their job is to protect the treasure and take down the fiend, who comes complete with villainous costume and mask (reminiscent of the Power Rangers—costume design by Madison Booth) and mandatory lap cat.
Main communications break down and the spy elites must call on the cadets to help them. Prof. Pattagobhi is up to the task and liaises between the team and students, who vote on which path the team should take, decode a secret message, choose which spy to follow when the team has to split up, and even learn some cool defensive moves.
Kudos to the creative and technical teams for finding a way to actively engage young audiences, even miles away in their own homes, and for designing a thoroughly professional production.
Running Time: 45 minutes
Imagination Stage’s production of Spy Academy & The Lost Treasure of Atlantis airs as a Zoom event through May 23, 2021. Tickets are $25 per household and may be purchased online or by calling Imagination Stage’s box office at (301) 280-1660. Birthday parties and other groups of 10 or more can reserve their own private performances.
CAST (in order of appearance)
Amanda Haddock: “Pat” – Dr. Patricia Lee Mills, Ph.D
Matthew Pauli: “Pat” – Prof. Cornelius Archimedes Pattagobhi
Jasmine Jones: “Pat” – Patty Marigold
Edima Essien: Newscaster
David Whitney: Man Eating Sandwich
Danielle Gallo: Tank
Miss Kitty: Specs
Ryan Sellers: Locksmith / Dr. Levinious
Waffles Belack: Dog Jumping Over TP
Janet Stanford: Producing Artistic Director; Jeffrey Eagle: Producer & Co-Director; Strother Gaines: Chief Conceptual Artist & Co-Director; Doug Robinson: Playwright; Danielle Harris: Scenic & Graphic Designer; Madison Booth: Costume Designer; Bethany Regalbuto: Digital Content Programmer
Katie “Hawkeye” Moshier: Stage Manager
Jeffrey Eagle: Producer & Co-Director; Chris Mariles: Director of Photography; Paige Smith Lee: Editor; Ted Hogeman: Sound; Xander Eagle: Production Assistant & Ninja #3
IMAGINATION STAGE PRODUCTION STAFF
Laura “Silver Blades” Sperling: Production Manager; John “Grumpy Pants” Elder: Technical Director; Bethany “Technobabble” Regalbuto: Master Electrician; Danielle “Eye of Sauron” Harris: Scenic Charge Artist & Graphic Designer; Kate “Thrift Store” Bryer: Associate Artistic Director; Anna “Fun Facts” Klinger: Costume Shop Manager; David “Meatball” Whitney: Director of Operations