nytheatre.com review by Edward Elefterion
August 20, 2009
Imagine a place where kids are encouraged to dance silly and sing out loud and act up a storm, not because they're especially talented, but because such activities release the creative spirit and are valued as essential to developing the child's sense of self and sense of others. (Not to mention that dancing, singing, and acting can be downright fun.) Imagine a place of play where children experience that trying, not succeeding, is the real point of doing something, where questions like "What if they laugh at me?" and "What if I make a mistake?" are fully acknowledged and balanced with support and guidance. Sounds to me like a place where children can be children, a place where their curious, creative natures will flourish. Sounds to me like a place that adults might also benefit from visiting. The Imagine Project is such a place. And their production, Imagine, while charming, isn't nearly as important as the work they do and have been doing since 1992. Visit their website for more info.
The production opens with a pair of children arguing about what they see in the clouds. One by one, more enter, each with his or her own interpretation, until we've met all twelve of them. They launch into the song "Clouds" and we're on our way. It's a fitting opening considering that theatre is a place of public interpretation and that the world we live in is one of argument based largely on point of view. Through the nine scenes (each with a song) we get a taste of the world these kids come from: divorce, shrinks, boredom, envy, love, competition, and even the recession (one child, with a black stocking over his head, takes off his hat and reaches it towards the audience while another implores us to donate something so that "this child might have a face one day"). Funny, but also a little chilling when you consider that the material was all created by the children. They're the ones writing about how a shrink helped when their parents got divorced and giving out his number to a friend who might want to call him. Children recommending shrinks to each other? These kids are growing up fast because they need to. That's why I think they're lucky to have the Imagine Project in their lives, as well as a man like Bill Bartlett, their director.
I don't know Mr. Bartlett but I picked him out in less than a minute. He was bopping around the theatre saying hello to this one and shaking hands with that one. During the performance he sat front and center and I had the advantage of being able to watch him watch the children...all of whom he clearly loves and regards as his own. He's a tall man with a big smile and the kids often looked at him as they performed. It was a touching exchange to witness. I also happened to be sitting next to a lovely woman who I learned is the mother of one of the performers. Her son was equally easy to pick out as he glanced towards his mother whenever he could. The two of them relished their silent communication and, I think that's really what the show is about: the sort of intimacy and pride and fearlessness that comes from unconditional love.
At the end of the performance, the children pulled up as many people as they could onto the stage and told them to "dance silly" when they're given the cue. Most of them were surely parents, siblings, relatives, but I'm imagining that some were complete strangers. And they danced silly...like no one was watching.