How many of us have received a holiday gift we didn’t exactly need...or like? We’ve all smiled politely and set aside the socks. Maybe the earrings. Or the platter. In Attack Theatre’s annual show, “Holiday Unwrapped,” the dancers reminded us that the old cliche´ is true - it really is the thought that counts.
Not only is the thought important to Attack, but also the sense of community surrounding the season. Co-directors, Peter Kope and Michele de la Reza, wanted to create a show that brought people together, more than just sitting politely next to a stranger while looking up at a stage.
“Holiday Unwrapped” combined performance with games, goodies and mingling, with an audience of toddlers and grandparents alike. The thirty-five minute kid-friendly show ran at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. this past Saturday, after a Friday evening opener. In between, children (and some spirited adults) took part in the several games set up at Attack's open space.
This wasn’t a video game or IPad kind of play. Instead, a life-size game of chess broke out next to a classic pit of balls. Cardboard boxes were stacked and then toppled with shouts of joy. A coloring station was set up next to sidewalk chalk where kids were free to draw right on the floor. In addition, company members led team building games using darts and blindfolds.
What worked so well about the performance and play was that no child sat confined to an uncomfortable seat, asked to stay quiet and still. Instead, when the show began, audience members were encouraged to sit in any of the cozy chairs or beanbags. Standing and lounging on the floor were also options.
The actual show was suitable for children and adults. As Kope told me last year, kids will understand the simple message, and adults will recognize the more complex. And as de la Reza informed the audience before the show began, all of us were free to laugh and clap and enjoy the dancing out loud, another plus for families with little ones.
To begin, Dane Toney struggled to carry several bags and packages onto the stage, a concept many of us can relate to - the excess of the holidays. The three other dancers hurriedly shuffled in, talking on cell phones and picking up Toney’s dropped boxes. The rush of excitement was clear.
Dancer, Liz Chang, was the one to open presents. Instead of frowning at the one random, red high heel she received, or the socks that were too big, she used those gifts with creativity and flat out fun.
The huge socks allowed Chang to slide around the stage like an ice skater, while the others caught her before she fell, and lifted her over their heads with ease. In the meantime, Toney placed an empty box over his head and danced robot style. Brent Luebbert used a table and chair as part of a solo phrase of athletic movement. Kaitlin Dann was also in the mix, gleefully celebrating the season with leaps and laughter.
Attack Theatre’s message was meaningful. The holidays are more than just a wrapped package. The performers’ festivity came through in their interaction with one another. And their sense of community extended to the audience as they concluded the performance. The dancers asked kids from the audience to join them at the front of the stage, each child holding an individual letter. Together, the letters spelled “Happy Holidays.”
In its fourth year running, “Holiday Unwrapped” succeeded in bringing true merriment to a month that often feels bogged down and exhausting. If you add one more event to your calendar next December, make it this one.