By Mary Boyle
There's no escaping the truth that virtual theatre is not the same as live theatre. The magic that happens between audience and actors is something that can only be obtained be being in the same room, journeying along with the actors as they tell their tale. Though the script may not change, no two performances in a run of shows is alike, not just because mistakes are made (most of which go unnoticed by the audience, but cause shifts in the actors) but because the energy between the actors and the audience changes from performance to performance. When you see a theatre performance live, it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime, one-of-a-kind experience that a virtual show just can't replicate. That being said, ESCAPE FROM PELIGRO ISLAND, the latest virtual installment from First Stage, manages to bring the excitement of a live performance along with an entirely unique audience engagement experience.
Written by Australian children's playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer, Escape is similar to Kruckemeyer's two other plays produced at First Stage, 2015's The Snow and 2018's powerful Antarctica, WI, in that it explores the everyday hero. Callaway Brown, played by Loralei Madson of West Allis, is an awkward kid who just doesn't seem to fit in but, through a series of extraordinary events, is given the opportunity to reinvent himself. The production, written specifically for a virtual format, is unique in that, throughout the performance, audience members will have multiple opportunities to help Callaway make decisions by texting to vote for the action of their choice, just like those massively popular Choose Your Own Adventure books in the 80's. This means that, truly, no two performances will be alike.
Directed by Jeff Frank, the Artistic Director of First Stage, Escape is performed by just three adult actors and three young performers and, for the first two weekends, each performance is live. The adult cast consists of Milwaukee's own Matt Daniels and David Flores, as well as Nadja Simmonds. Young performers include Loralei Madson, Eleanor Hannon, and Liam Eddy. All of the performers do an excellent job, though they are occasionally hampered by technology and the fact that they're not actually in the same room with each other, let alone on the same stage, which can affect the flow of dialog. Kruckemeyer's plays can be, in my humble opinion, a bit too obvious, as if he doesn't trust young audiences to reach certain conclusions on their own, which can cause elements of cheesy-ness, to use the technical term. Nonetheless, it is 90 minutes of good, clean family-friendly entertainment that brings people together, and we can all use a bit of that, right now.
ESCAPE FROM PELIGRO ISLAND streams live January 31 at 1:00 & 3:30 p.m., February 5 at 7 p.m., and February 6 at 1 & 3:30 p.m. Recorded episodes will be available to stream through February 28, 2021. Tickets are available for $15, $25 or $40 online at www.firststage.org or by phone at (414) 267-2961. Patrons are encouraged to choose the price point that best fits their family and budget. Ticket buyers will receive an access code to stream this performance through the streaming service Broadway On Demand. Family All-Access Pass memberships are also available.
About First Stage
First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten and entertain. Its Theater Academy, the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fosters life skills through stage skills and serves nearly 2,000 students each year. As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-integrated education in schools, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs promote literacy, character building and experiential learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students each year. First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2012), and was the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Eureka Award, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education and the arts for its Next Steps program for students on the autism spectrum (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Milwaukee Arts Partners and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).