When We Grow Up embodies the very essence of Fringe: it’s a chance to try out new ideas, and a chance to get up in front of people. The first fifteen minutes of the show are scripted. After that, the show is up to you, the audience.
Terrence, a nerdy physics student, first appears on stage messing with what looks like a plywood box with various parts of a computer taped to it. Before the show even begins, Terrence had us laughing.
Already in character, he is hunched over, pushing up his glasses, and inviting us to take a seat. When someone asked if it was okay to eat, he said as long as it’s not raisins; they would interfere with the machine’s electro-activity because of, um, antioxidants.
His ability to come up with comebacks on the spot—in character, no less—assured us we were in for a good show.
We soon discovered that for his Ph.D. thesis, Terrence has unlocked an alternative universe in which kids have to choose their career paths at age eight. Due to a network error that would make even the wisest of IT specialists scratch their heads, we are launched into that alternative universe.
What really struck me was the improv abilities of the audience members.
When We Grow Up
Written and directed by Will Jennings
Details and tickets
One person from my group got sent up stage to defend the “value,” he brought as a home school teacher, a profession randomly decided for him. He described his job as “protecting children from the evils of public school,” noting that the only way to keep kids from turning into drug dealers is to “keep them within your sight at all times.”
Even the cast had a hard time keeping in their laughter when this guy opened his mouth.
A big part of the play was rating different professions in terms of ethics, presentation and productivity. It makes sense, then, to evaluate the play in a similar fashion.
The perfect score earned by Danny P., the all-too-lovable Walmart greeter is averaged out by the dastardly, sinister (and all-too-lovable) Judge. Five.
From the bright purple hair and costuming of the Judge to the anxiety of the incredibly sweet Walmart greeter, everything was overdone in the best possible way. “Absurd,” does not even begin to cover this production. Ten.
Fun? Absolutely. Thought-provoking? Ehhh. The show probably could have benefited from more actor facilitation. While everyone seemed to have a good time, I can’t say anyone left reconsidering the value they place on different people in society, at least in the way the show aspired to. Eight.
Interactive plays have seen a surge recently, particularly in the West End. According to Ticket Master, more than one third of theatre-goers love interactive theatre. The genre adds an interesting voice in the cinema vs. theatre discussion. Yes, with Netflix you can wear your jammies and eat peanut butter straight from the jar, but only with theatre do you get to truly experience the act. Investor Mark Cuban of Shark Tank fame has so much faith in the future of interactive events, he paid $1,000,000 for a California company doing Halloween experiences.
After all, even in productions where as an audience member you are cloaked in dark lights and sit many seats from stage, you still feel there in a way you aren’t with TV. Besides, any actor will tell you they feed off the audience’s energy. The difference with interactive theatre is that the union created between actors and audience members is more vocalized.
When We Grow Up completely engaged the audience. Everyone—not just the enthusiastic volunteers, but everyone—got to play. You draw. You think. You evaluate.
This style of theatre could not have come at a better time. Perhaps you’ve heard of the “tuned in generation,” an accusation we Millennials will happily retort – just let us send out this tweet real quick. Director Will Jennings, a student at Virginia Tech, seems to get it. He, along with the members of cast and crew who fall into the same age bracket, offers a gentle solution to cellular distractions: a production that demands your full attention.
For those of us who do feel a little glued to our phones, don’t worry. I promise that for the full run of this hour-long production, you won’t miss it.