On January 3rd, 2015, I got to debut a brand new show at the Walker Art Center called ‘The Time Wanderers.” When I met with Frannie and Christina last June and they proposed that I make a show based on the Walker’s history I said, “yes!” Of course I said yes, because that’s what I say to interesting and intimidating opportunities. But I didn’t really know what the show would look like or how I would put it together.
Somehow, many hours of reading and looking through old images turned into a 50 minute all-ages comedy show. I’d decided that the key to this show connecting with audience members as young as 1 or 2 and keeping them engage while actually covering some significant moments from the Walker’s history was that large chunks of the show be improvised and that we get as many young people down on the stage as possible.
If you make a show with the idea that for much of the performance you’ll have anywhere from 2 to 20 young people on stage, you have to get comfortable with the idea of controlled chaos. That’s why I knew I needed to get live music on stage from Dietrich Poppen and perform the action on stage with one of the most naturally funny people I know who also happens to be gifted at staying calm while things seem slightly out of control on stage, Andy Kraft.
With this small, solid performing team together, the amazing Doug in the tech booth, and some really solid show elements that would ensure no matter how far afield any one scene may go we would always have a clear way back to the core structure, I knew something good would happen on stage. But it’s never a certainty that things will go well or that an audience will be on board for new experiences.
One of the great things about the families who show to First Free Saturday events at the Walker is that they walk in with the expectation to not only consume art but to participate in the making of art. The Education and Community Programs department has spent years making a promise to its audiences that they will be able to engage in creative acts when they show up and the result is rooms full of people who don’t need to be asked a second time to come on down to the stage. Because of this, we went from moments in the script that said things like, “hopefully one or two people come down to the stage and act out a scene,” to wondering how we were going to keep every single person in the audience from flooding the stage to closing the show by inviting everyone who was willing to come on down move their bodies in order to prove that dance was a legitimate art form.
I’ve experienced a great many things on stages in front of audiences but there is no other experience on the planet like dancing on a stage with 40 young people who are all grinning ear to ear and then realizing they have gotten ahold of several roles of tinfoil and have now all decided I should be wrapped in that tin foil. There is still a long way to go towards convincing the world that comedy and improvisational theater are important and powerful art forms, but where I stand there is no deeper expression of the idea of Art than interacting on with those young people on the McGuire theater stage.