When Chicago Children’s Theatre renovated a former police station into it’s new home, little did the company know they would be redecorating so soon. For the next month, the two-story building is being taken over by “An Epic Tale of Scale,” which promises a unique theater experience for children and parents.
“An Epic Tale” is an immersive, interactive world that explores the science behind scale while also taking a journey into the human body and to the far reaches of the universe. It’s co-created and co-directed by Henry Wishcamper and Jo Cattell, who collaborated on the design with the theater’s community programs artistic director Frank Maugeri. Composer Gabriel Ruiz uses hip-hop, rock and folk songs to create distinct sonic landscapes throughout the building.
‘An Epic Tale of Scale’
When: March 10-April 8
Where: Chicago Children’s Theatre, 100 S. Racine
“What we are doing is creating a number of different worlds children and parents can experience together,” Cattell says. “We want it to have an educational level but also make it a really fun experience.”
“An Epic Tale,” recommended for ages 6 and up, stretches over two floors from the theater’s classroom spaces to hallways, elevator and stairwells. Groups of 20 will enter at 20-minute intervals, beginning in a colorful Curiosity Shop (subtly inspired by Harry Potter’s world) filled with objects lent by the Field Museum — taxidermy animals (owl, skunk, birds), bugs, fossils, rocks and various cultural objects from foreign countries — for children to explore.
Exiting the shop, the adventure moves on to an obstacle course where participants are shrunk (playing with scale comes into play here) to become blood cells in the bloodstream where they must stop a viral attack (think Whack-a-Virus), move on to the brain (a large room with craft tables where children can get creative) and eventually into outer space and an alien encounter.
“There’s not a dull moment in the entire experience,” says Maugeri, former artistic director at the innovative Redmoon Theater. “Creating a site specific work demands a kind of risky, adventurous, fearless spirit. I think people will be fairly astounded.”
Wishcamper and Cattell collaborated on an earlier version of “An Epic Tale” at Kenwood’s Ancona School where Wishcamper’s children are students. He says collaborating with Maugeri, who created magical worlds at Redmoon and continues to do so with his side project Cabinet of Curiosity Events, has elevated the production to another level. Part of the fun in creating this world is theatricalizing the idea of what the scale of it would look like.
“There’s an element of it that is fully immersive and sensory but there’s also an element of it that is conceptual,” Wishcamper says. “And the intersection of how Frank’s mind works in terms of all this has been really, really fun to watch.”
Wishcamper, an artistic associate at the Goodman Theatre, and Cattell, recently named the 2018 Maggio Directing Fellow at the Goodman, also looked to children for advice in the show’s creation. During rehearsals, kids, including their own, were in the space “test driving it,” says Cattell.
“My son who is very happy to give his opinion was a very willing participant, and we got him to test out the obstacle course,” says Cattell, adding with a laugh, “He loved it. I think he’s going to grow up to be a stunt man.”
As for Wishcamper, his children have been giving him things to add the Curiosity Shop.
“Today, it’s glow in the dark tape,” he says laughing. “I have to figure out a way to get that in there.”
MORE THEATER FUN FOR CHILDREN
“You Think It’s Easy Being the Tooth Fairy?”: A musical adaptation of the children’s book about a tooth fairy in training; directed by Heather Currie. Recommended for ages 5 and up. Preview March 17, opens March 18; to April 22. Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood, $15; lifelinetheatre.com
“Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical”: Musical adaptation of Mo Willems classic children’s book about the search for a beloved lost rabbit. Recommended for ages 3 and up. Previews begin March 16, opens March 24; to May 26. Emerald City Theatre at Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln, $19-$29; emeraldcitytheatre.com
“The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles”: An audience-immersive adaptation of the children’s book about an eccentric seaman whose life gains meaning when he brings the messages he finds in bottles to nearby villagers. Recommended for ages 4 and up. Previews begin April 21, opens April 28, to June 3. Filament Theatre, 4041 N. Milwaukee, $14, $17.50; filamenttheatre.org
“The Ugly Duckling”: An updated musical version of the classic tale about belonging. Recommended for pre-K through 3rd grade. Opens April 3; to April 13. Chicago Kids Company at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell, Arlington Heights, $12, $14; metropolisarts.com