(This review is by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Andrew J. Friedenthal.)
If there’s one thing children enjoy more than watching adults be goofy, it’s getting the chance to join with them in pure, unabashed silliness. That’s exactly the opportunity presented to kids at the Hideout Theatre’s weekly Flying Theater Machine, an interactive, family-friendly comedy show.
Flying Theater Machine is long-form improv with a rotating format, meaning that each show has one continuous story with a beginning, middle, and end made up on the spot. That story is determined both by the theme of the show, as well as suggestions from the audience.
Through Aug 31, Flying Theater Machine’s format is “Wonderland,” as the talented improvisers create Alice in Wonderland-like stories of a young girl lost in a world of talking animals, strange creatures, and twisted logic.
Led by Jessica Arjet, co-owner and youth director of the Hideout, the cast improvises a clear, magically-tinged story that is easy for kids to follow, with the occasional wordplay and meta-commentary aimed more squarely at the grown ups in the crowd. Along the way, the story frequently resonates with values of friendship, community, and self-worth, imparting a lesson along with all the giggles.
Every now and then throughout the play, characters will invite all the willing children in the audience onto the stage to take part in the action. Sometimes this may just be for fun – such as pretending to be kitty cats – and other times it is actually utilized to move the story’s plot along, giving the kids a full sense of agency in determining the direction of the show.
The improvisers (who, this past Sunday, included Arjet, Thedward Blevins, Tyler Bryce, Mitchell Deane, Suzanne Link, Megan Venable, Jessica von Schramm, Luke Wallens, and Aspen Webster) are particularly adept at coaxing the children into participating. Since they always do so in a large group, even shyer children may find themselves willing to join in on the fun, giving parents an opportunity to enjoy watching their little ones hamming it up on stage. The show culminates with a group dance party between the cast and the kids, bringing an energetic end to a vibrant hour of improvised storytelling.
Flying Theater Machine’s “Wonderland” format runs through Aug 31st, and will be followed by “Wizard School,” with a story influenced by a certain boy wizard who shall not be named. Throughout the changing focus of the plot, though, one thing remains consistent – The Flying Theater Machine creates a magical afternoon for children and parents alike.