A treat for tots, ‘Fitting In’ makes magical art with loose parts

Presented by Arts on the Horizon, the show moves to 1st Stage for free performances from March 31 to April 2.

Fitting In, a unique and spunky original show written by Patrick W. Lord and Megan Thrift, with original music by Emily Erickson and production by navi, nails its mission of entertaining and inspiring curiosity in its young target audience. This magical show, produced by Arts on the Horizon, manages to capture and hold the attention of the littlest theatergoers, from ages 2 to 5.

Pablo Guillen, Emily Erickson, and Graciela Rey in ‘Fitting In.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

The shrieks of laughter coming from the audience are proof of its success. Performers Emily Erickson, Pablo Guillen, and Graciela Rey were masterful in using their facial expressions, body language, and small noises to convey their thoughts and feelings clearly to the toddlers and preschoolers (and adult caregivers) watching their every move.

The show centers around three characters (the program describes them as siblings, yet I thought three friends) who find a series of boxes and trunks in a room (I imagined they were given access to an old attic), and we get to watch as they open boxes, discover a wide array of items (an old telephone, a shoe, an umbrella, lampshades), and use them in an exciting variety of fun and new ways. This show epitomizes the magic and importance of open-ended play. For the uninitiated, research has shown that open-ended play, specifically with what are known as “loose parts,” is beneficial and integral to children’s development. Loose parts are defined as “materials that are variable, meaning they can be used in more than one way so that children can then experiment and invent through play, and these materials can be natural or synthetic.”

This exact sort of curiosity, experimentation, and joy of discovery is ever present in Fitting In. The performers’ clear talent for movement and dance enhances the viewing experience and makes this a perfect introduction to both theater and dance performance for young ones. In addition, the use of physical comedy and clowning brings the silliness, humor, and laughter that kids adore. Lord, Thrift, and the entire creative team deeply understand their audience at its core, which is clear in every aspect of the performance. The elements all work together to inspire that sense of wonder, including the beautiful lighting design by Dean Leong.

Graciela Rey, Emily Erickson, and Pablo Guillen in ‘Fitting In.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

During the show, the performers come into the audience and allow children to interact with some of the items; they are even invited to touch one of the props, to their delight and awe. It’s incredible how much is actually packed into the 30-minute production, including a couple little subtle reminders to take deep breaths when things get tense — something that all of us benefit from remembering from time to time. This short performance is truly ideal as it leaves one wanting more, and as a bonus, after the bows, children are invited to meet and take photographs with the performers. What a treat!

Running Time: 30 minutes, no intermission.
Best for children ages 2–5 and their families.

Fitting In presented by Arts on the Horizon will be performed for free at 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Road Tysons, VA, on Friday, March 31 at 10:30 am; Saturday, April 1 at 10 am and 11:30 am; and Sunday, April 2 at 11 am.) Free tickets may be reserved online.

(Fitting In played March 10 to March 25, 2023, presented by Arts on the Horizon performing at the Theatre on the Run, 3700 S Four Mile Run Dr, Arlington, VA. Fitting In is also touring locally to Alexandria preschools, weekdays through March 28, 2023.)

The program for Fitting In is downloadable here (scroll down).

COVID Safety: All patrons, volunteers, and staff are required to be masked while inside the 1st Stage Theatre facility. See 1st Stage’s complete COVID Safety Information here.

Fitting In
Written by Patrick W. Lord and Megan Thrift
​Directed by Patrick W. Lord
Original Music Composed by Emily Erickson & Produced by navi

Costume Design, Jeanette Christensen; Puppet Design by Matthew Pauli; Props Artisan & AOTH Emerging Artist, Amber Smithers; Dramaturg, Natalie Cutcher; Stage Management by Kaitlyn Shifflett.

‘A piece of my heart onstage’: Patrick W. Lord on his new play for tots (interview by Nicole Hertvik, March 17, 2023)


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