How does a new shoestring-budget, guerrilla children’s theater tell the classic hero’s journey? With hand-sewn, funky, disco-dancing vegetable puppets whose force never stops. War and Peas is very movement-based, with clowning, mime, and dancing from breaking to ballet. “Dance is the universal language,” said writer, director, and choreographer Ruthie Rado.
Last fall Rado, during her senior year at George Mason, launched Pocket Change Theater Company and first workshopped War and Peas, taking it to elementary and preschools. “The kids are with us every step of the way. They get it immediately,” Rado said. Ironically, it’s the grown ups that have to be, er, spoon fed. “Adults are used to a certain structure.”
Rado’s goal with PCTC was to make children’s theater “different than fairy tales with variations. A different angle, new and exciting.” Though she appreciates the lovely local children’s theater scene, she passes up Proscenium plays in favor of shows that can be performed on playgrounds to largely unsuspecting and nonpaying audiences. “We switched around the rules on who can do what,” Rado says. The kids get to feel like they’re part of the story, and occupy the same space as the actors.
Accessibility is an important part of the mission of Pocket Change Theater Company. Not only do they remove the barrier of cost, but with War and Peas’ limited dialogue, it’s ESL- and deaf-friendly.
The family-friendly show comes out of the GMU family: All of the players are either alum or current students, and Rado’s brother Vincent composed the original music. And while she’s credited as the writer, Rado said that after auditions, War and Peas came alive with actor collaboration. For instance, flamenco wasn’t considered until after auditioning Rocio A. Medina, a classically trained flamenco dancer. “I was more of a guide,” said Rado, “and there’s a little bit of everyone in the story.”
After Fringe, Pocket Change embarks on a traveling production of A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream. It doesn’t require any prep from audiences—not even a ticket—because it’s a pop-up playground show. The audience will “have no idea a little play is about to happen,” said Rado. “They come with zero expectations, and are a blank slate, more willing to go along with the journey.”
War and Peas (70 minutes) will perform upstairs at the Logan Fringe Arts Space tonight at 6:15, 7/11 at 2:30 PM, 7/18 at 12:30 PM, 7/19 at 1:00 PM, 7/22 at 6:30 PM, and 7/25 at 12:30 PM.
Photo Courtesy of Pocket Change Theatre Company