In the Moment: Pocket Change Theatre Company Presents ‘Midsummer on a Playground’ 8/28-29 at Workhouse Arts Center

So where does a new theater company head after a successful introduction at the recent Capital Fringe Festival with its production of War and Peas?  In the case of Pocket Change Theatre, the answer is to the Workhouse to produce an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which the troupe calls Midsummer on a Playground.  Catchy title!

Off went I to learn more about this newish band of fresh, just out of college, theater performers who are establishing their own company with drive for the long term. First stop was with Rick Davis, Dean, College of Visual and Performing Arts, George Mason University (GMU), since the co-founders of Pocket Change were very recent graduates of GMU. He was unhesitant in his praise for the work of the Pocket Change theater troupe.

Photo by Ruthie Rado.
Photo by Ruthie Rado.

Then it was on to an interview with Ruthie Rado, Artistic Director of Pocket Change Theatre Company as well as Brittany Martz, director of the upcoming production of Midsummer on a Playground.  Midsummer is to be performed at the Workhouse Arts Center in August and later in DC’s Shepard’s Park. From the interviews, it was clear that the Pocket Change folk want theater to be “fun and accessible” and even a participatory experience for audiences.

David Siegel:  Why was Pocket Change Theatre established? 

Ruthie Rado: Pocket Change Theatre Company was started by three friends from George Mason University. Social Media Coordinator Collin Riley, Managing Director David Johnson, and I wanted to create Theatre for Young Audiences that pushed the boundaries of style and story. We realized that we were sitting around, waiting for other people to make interesting art while we could be making it ourselves!

It all started with vegetables. Ruthie was struck with an idea for a children’s theatre piece: a dangerous journey across the kitchen. Pocket Change’s first production, War and Peas was born. The story followed three brave vegetables on their quest to save their friend from the scary fruit bowl. The story was dialogue light, making the show accessible to English as a Second Language and Deaf/Hard of Hearing audiences. Dancing, original music, and twenty five handcrafted puppets gave War and Peas a distinct flavor. We took the show to schools, nursing homes, and most recently, the Capital Fringe Festival.

Why has Pocket Change Theatre decided to adapt A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for a production at the Workhouse?

Midsummer on a Playground is the first in an annual “Shakespeare on a Playground” series. The goal with this series is to make Shakespeare accessible to kids by putting it in a fun, low-pressure environment.  When “Shakespeare” means a bunch of silly people on a playground, not a standardized multiple choice question, kids realize that Shakespeare can be exciting and fun.

While we have made cuts for length and added a preshow magic act, Shakespeare’s language remains intact. We firmly believe that Shakespeare can be understood and enjoyed by young audiences.

Photo by Ruthie Rado.
Photo by Ruthie Rado.

What can audiences expect at the Pocket Change production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Director Brittany Martz uses the framing device of a magic show to tell Shakespeare’s classic. Two travelling magicians hypnotize audience “volunteers” who unwittingly perform Midsummer while in a trance. This “play within a magic show” element adds a delicious layer of theatricality for the audience to chew on. The same seven actors play more than twenty roles!

The Workhouse performances of Midsummer will have relaxed seating, making the show autism-friendly. This means that the house lights will stay up, lighting cues will be minimal, no loud sound cues, audience members are free to move or step outside, and the Magician and Assistant will explain what will happen at the top of the show.

Why is it important for younger audiences to see a live theater production?

In an era of structured lesson plans and standardized testing, 24/7 web access, and a screen in every room, kids need the magic of live performance. Seeing a show unleashes the creative imagination, and breaks the monotony of the everyday.

Why does Fairfax County need a family-friendly theater company like Pocket Change?

While DC and Maryland have some amazing Theatre for Young Audiences, TYA is sparse in Northern Virginia. In an area saturated with families and schools, Northern Virginia is the perfect place for affordable, inventive children’s theatre.

What is next for Pocket Change Theatre after Midsummer?

After we close Midsummer, Pocket Change celebrates Latin American Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) and Native American Heritage Month (November) with The Cosmic Twins/Lxs Gemelxs Cosmicxs. This original, bilingual play by Chema Pineda-Fernandez tells the K’iche’ story of how the Sun and the Moon came to be. We are excited to give voice to Native American artists, whose presence is underrepresented in DC-area theatre.

Where would you like Pocket Change Theater in the next 2-3 years?

We want to continue to give theatre artists space to create original Theatre for Young Audiences, and expand our access to audiences that traditional theatre ignores.

What do you want younger audience members to take away after seeing the Pocket Change production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Britanny MartzNot only is Shakespeare for everyone, but so is theatre. No matter what you look like or where you come from, anybody can magically transform into a new character.

The cast of 'Midsummer on a Playground' gets goofy. Photo by Ruthie Rado.
The cast of ‘Midsummer on a Playground’ gets goofy. Photo by Ruthie Rado.

One last note about the Pocket Change moniker: The company name “encapsulates” the company’s mission to create pockets of creative change in the community, on a shoestring budget! Nice! Very nice indeed.

Midsummer on a Playground plays August 28, 2015  at 7 pm and August 29, 2015 at 4 pm and 7 -pm at Pocket Change Theatre performing at W-3 Theatre at the Workhouse Arts Center – 9601 Ox Road, in Lorton, VA. For tickets, call (703) 584-2900, or purchase them online. Tickets are $10 children 12 and under, and $12 for adults.

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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.


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