Originally published in print and online by Washington Parent in May 2016.
You may feel a rumble beneath your bum, and a spritz of water near your face. You may also notice that it has begun to snow, though it is June and you are indoors and this whole experience began in the cozy living room of an old mansion.
But fear not – it’s all part of the show in Adventure Theatre Musical Company’s immersive four-dimensional adaptation of the children’s classic, “Jumanji.”
Thanks to the 1995 movie adaptation of the popular tale, we all know the story of the board game that comes to life before the eyes of siblings, Judy and Peter as they explore the aforementioned mansion. We also know that their adventures involve a lion, a monsoon, monkeys, rhinos and much more. And this summer, your family can even know what it’s like to journey through the game alongside Judy and Peter, and all you need are tickets to the show.
Michael Bobbitt, Creative Director of Adventure Theatre, co-authored the company’s adaptation of the show with Sandra Eskin. He says their script writing had to be “creative” to keep up with the design elements involved in making a four-dimensional show.
“We’re looking at this as less of a play and more as an event,” he says. “It’s going to be a fun, surprising adventure. You never know when something is going to happen.”
Many of the show’s immersive elements are actually fairly simple theatrical tricks, Bobbitt says. Projection designers will use advanced technology and lighting to transform the theatre into different scenes – including a fish bowl and jungle – as Judy and Peter progress through the game. To mist the audience during the monsoon, he says they will use tubes that blow water through a fan, like misting stations at zoos and theme parks. The rumbles will simply be part of a volume effect.
Getting the show’s memorable lion on stage was the most challenging obstacle, but he says a puppet designer will bring the king of the jungle to center stage.
While the multitude of special affects will certainly change how the audience experiences the show, Bobbitt adds that the tricks are a game-changer for those on stage, too. He explains the performers will have to be attuned to the audience’s reactions to some of the four-dimensional and interactive elements of the show. This is especially true when children are involved, he says.
“What I love about children’s theater is that kids respond viscerally,” he said. “They say what’s on their mind, they’re not conditioned to wait until after the show.”
In fact, Bobbitt says the show was well received this spring when it was work shopped at Brown University and North Dakota State University. Bobbitt says they held readings of the script at these schools to work on the development of the show before committing to the interactive elements they would bring to it at Adventure Theatre.
He says the ability to break the fourth wall in theater shows where the field is going, and he is excited to bring these new elements to an established company here in the DMV.
“It really is a big part of where theater is headed,” he says. “The fourth wall is expanding and breaking down. I think children’s theater is having a major impact – this art form is finally making mainstream.”
“Jumanji” is Adventure Theatre’s fourth of five professional shows of the 2015-2016 season. Bobbit says it is the only show this season with these interactive elements – although others have featured projections – but he is excited to bring these adaptations to children’s theater.
“What I love about my job is bringing memorable experiences to our patrons,” he says. “My ultimate goal is to get kids so excited about what they’ve just seen that they want to be artists or at least lifelong patrons of the arts. Art is about challenging yourself and making your imagination and creativity come to life. It’s great to push our boundaries and do something other than what we’ve done before.”
Adventure Theatre will host the World Premiere of Eskin and Bobbitt’s adaptation of “Jumanji” from June 17 to August 28. The show is recommended for children ages 4 and up. Visit adventuretheatre-mtc.org for the full schedule and ticketing information.