Through its newly created Exploring Stages initiative, Indiana Repertory Theatre is hoping to reach pre-schoolers and elementary schoolers through performances geared especially to them.
“It is our first endeavor specifically designed for our youngest theatre-goers — those who are 3 to 8 years,” said Janet Allen, IRT’s executive artistic director. “We’ve thought about the design of the room in which we want these young people to experience theatre-making. We’ve thought about the ages and kinds of performers we want creating for them. We’ve thought hardest about the storytelling components and the content of the story we want them to experience.”
For The Velveteen Rabbit, the IRT's third floor cabaret space has been transformed into a bedroom that’s the domain of a boy named Steve — “Steven” when he’s done something that exasperates his parents — and a quartet of toys. Oh, and a brother, Ben, who is six years older.
Because as audience members, we’ve got lots of imagination and empathy and a bit of wisdom, a window, a bed, a chest of drawers and a rocking chair are all we need to experience great adventures, scary times, brave moments and lots of learning.
Carol North directs with a firm grip on what an audience ranging from toddlers to third graders will process, and the seven actors are in top form, believable even when they’re a battery run train or boat, an old rocking horse and a new Velveteen Rabbit.
Steve shares the hurt he felt when his brother at age 12 told him he was too little to play with him and his friends; he shows us how he stood up to a bully; and he explains how his enduring love for that older brother came about.
Andrew Martin wins us over as Older Steve, Mitchell Wray shows vulnerability as Younger Steve. Isaac Herzog grows from bossy to loving older brother Ben. Adam O. Crowe brings loving wisdom to a scruffy old rocking horse. And Zoe Turner and Ethan Holder are wonderfully obnoxious as Train and Boat and then wondrous as Wild Rabbits.
But it’s Tyler Ostrander as the Velveteen Rabbit who helps us understand what it means to be “real.”
One is never too young or old to be touched, so we sniffle and laugh, get angry at bad behavior and applaud nice gestures. Randy Pease, as IRT’s director of education, emcees the performance.