By Lucille Rieke
You know it’s a special show when audience members are handed props — a rare occurrence but one that successfully piques audience engagement. It’s even more special when audience members are given not one prop but a suitcase full of props.
In Imagination Stage’s Theatre for Young Audiences production (TYA) of Mouse on the Move, each child in attendance receives a small, colorful suitcase filled with props (by Andrea “Dre” Moore) as they enter the theater. The “little mice” (kids) sit on the edge of a chalk circle that is drawn to represent the stage, one of their guardians sits on a bench behind them, and the rest of the “adult mice” sit in the actual seats of the Christopher and Dana Reeves Studio Theatre at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Maryland.
Mouse on the Move is an interactive show for children ages 1 to 4 (though there were infants, grandparents, and everyone in between in attendance). The show follows sisters Amelia Mouse (Rebecca Ballinger) and Nellie Mouse (Cynthia Davis) as they journey outside their mouse hole. The Mouse sisters take us through a typical day: brushing their teeth, stretching, and, of course, eating cheese. But when they run out of cheese, they go on a quest to find more. In hopes of reaching the moon, which they believe is made of cheese, we watch as they travel by car, boat, and plane.
This imaginative story, written and directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer and Janet Stanford, does an excellent job of incorporating children into the experience. Much to the kids’ delight, they are welcomed into the center of the circle a few times throughout the approximately 45-minute performance.
During Amelia and Nellie’s journey, they meet Mama Ladybug and Mama Starfish (hand puppets operated by Ballinger and Davis respectively), who are searching for their children. The sisters ask the audience if they have seen the ladybug babies (red clothespins) and starfish babies (colorful bowls). Both “babies” are in the prop suitcase, and the kids are invited to return the babies to their mothers.
Additionally, there are several moments when the kids help tell the story through props. When Amelia and Nellie reach the North Sea, all the kids are asked to put on the scarves from their suitcases because it’s cold. The adults are then handed white loofahs, which are tossed onto the stage as snowballs so that the kids can play in the snow.
However, the prop that elicited the most enthusiasm from the small audience members was the bells. When the prop suitcases were handed out by the Facilitator (Matthew Crawford) before the show started, the kids were immediately drawn to the colored bells among the other props. Suddenly, the room erupted with a cacophony of dinging, ringing, and clinging from these bells. As the show began, the actors explained that the bells can be rung only when they see the moon; otherwise, they must be silent. Each time the moon was projected at various points throughout the show, the kids were quick to ring the bells, sometimes shouting and pointing: “Moon!”
Ballinger excels in the difficult task of telling a story to young audience members that they can understand. With her animated facial expressions and larger-than-life movements, she is a crowd-pleaser among kids and adults. Davis charms with her bright smile and adorable portrayal of timid Nellie Mouse, perfectly contrasting the unflappable confidence of her sister, Amelia Mouse.
The best part of the show, though, is watching the faces of these young audience members: the smiles, the giggles, the abrupt interruptions, and the pure wonder that dances across their faces. As they observe, ring their bells, walk on stage when invited, and dig through their suitcases, their joy is simply contagious.
Imagination Stage proves how powerful TYA can be. Exposing kids to theater at a young age helps ensure that the arts continue influencing them as they grow up. The positive memories created by attending a show like Mouse on the Move pave the way for more theater experiences in their futures.
While Mouse on the Move is recommended for children ages 1-4 and their guardians, anyone can have a great time attending the show — a joyful experience for everyone and a beautiful reminder of the importance of children’s theater.
Running Time: Approximately 45 minutes with no intermission.
Mouse on the Move plays through February 11, 2024, in the Christopher and Dana Reeves Studio Theatre at Imagination Stage – 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda, MD. Shows are on Saturdays and Sundays at 9:00 am, 10:30 am, and 12:00 pm. Tickets ($19.50 and up) may be purchased online, in person at Imagination Stage’s box office, or by phone at 301-280-1660. Group rates are available for parties of 10+.
Best for ages 1 to 4.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional.
Lucille Rieke is an actor, musician, singer, and teaching artist based in Washington, DC, and San Francisco. She is currently a sophomore at American University studying Theatre Performance and Public Relations. You may have seen her recently in American University’s production of Daughters of Leda (Alex/Eve) or Once (Ex-Girlfriend). Lucille is honored to have the opportunity to write with DC Theater Arts as part of the DC Theater U program and cannot wait to begin seeing more theater in the future.
Mouse on the Move
Written and Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer and Janet Stanford
Music by Tim Guillot
Amelia Mouse: Rebecca Ballinger
Nellie Mouse: Cynthia Davis
Facilitator: Matthew Crawford
U/S Amelia and Facilitator: Jackie Madejski
U/S Nellie and Facilitator Understudy: Bri Houtman
Written and directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer and Janet Stanford
Music by Tim Guillot
Imagination Stage Manager: Olivia Viola
Remount Props Coordinator: Andrea “Dre” Moore