The pandemic shutdown has affected folks across the country for nearly a year, and for an East Glacier Park native, the cancellation of Broadway shows in New York City had a direct impact on her life.
“I knew it was coming because we’d already lost a lot of shows,” Mackenzie Sherburne said. “I was in a room testing for work off-Broadway when the director came in and said, ‘we’re going to shut down Broadway.’”
She and her friends suddenly found themselves barred from their places of work, but with all that creativity pinched off, they searched for other means of bringing their art to folks all around the country. That was the beginning of Adventure Players Live!, an interactive ensemble of professional artists and educators who blend storytelling, music, art and movement into interactive adventures for kids ages 5 to 9.
“I reached out to friends in New York, and we started meeting a couple times a week,” she said. “There were 13 founding members, and we brainstormed what we like about teaching kids, and that led to creating shows to interact with them. We love collaborating, and everyone in New York was indoors.”
For two-and-a-half months they were staying in, but with a collaboration of characters and stories that began to find their way into children’s homes. Last April, her group began writing new shows each week and continued to bring them to young people via Zoom from then until last December.
“It’s been joyful to teach and collaborate, and to experience the technology and abilities of Zoom and flash theater,” Sherburne said. “We’ve scaled back some this year for production quality to one show per month.”
For her part, Mackenzie brings puppets into the scene. Her character is called “Twig the Hedgehog.”
“It’s been lovely,” she said. “I’ve been puppeting, and I’ve done puppeting before. It’s very fun to see kids’ reactions talking to a puppet; it’s given me joy amid the pandemic and with my dad.”
Her father, Steve Sherburne, is at home in East Glacier Park now, being cared for by Mackezie and his family. Recently named to the Montana Golf Association Hall of Fame, he encountered a form of cancer from which he is now recovering. In fact, Mackenzie said she recorded one of her puppet episodes from the front seat of Steven’s car.
“The weird thing about the pandemic is that we’ve been able to reach so many communities, and it’s good for all the teaching artists to see the people I’ve been involved with all my life,” Mackenzie said.
Locally, young people should be able to easily access tickets to the performances.
“Tickets are available to everyone, and we can make them accessible to everyone,” Mackenzie said. “Just start a conversation, and we’ll make it work so kids of all backgrounds can interact.”
In a time when children are not in school, the focus of Adventure Players Live! is on social learning, and the Great Great Forest provides a safe place where kids can work together while remaining physically separate.
“We get a lot of mileage out of our green screens, costumes and puppets,” said founding artist Jessica Giannone. “And this season, we will take families to ‘Outer Outer Space,’ all over The Great Great Forest, and even back to ‘Prehistoric Prehistoric Times.’ Stay tuned for details on our March, April and May shows.”
While all the shows are pre-written, Mackenzie said each show changes with the kids’ interactive input. In one show, she said, they were exploring music in the Great Great Forest, and by the end of the show each kid watching had brought in his or her musical instrument to share.
“All of us were almost in tears because the connection was not planned,” Mackenzie said. “That’s why we do what we do. We open the door and allow them to see people who are not in their community, across the country and around the world.”
Adventure Players Live!’s Season 3 kickoff show, “It’s a Celebration in the Great Great Forest,” will run Friday, Feb. 26, at 4 p.m. MST and Saturday, Feb. 27, at 12 p.m. MST on Zoom. The show is best suited for kids ages 5 to 9, and families can buy tickets at www.adventureplayerslive.com.
“In our first show of Season 3, Forester and friends will be celebrating their cultures and what makes them special,” said founding artist Tyler Britt, writer of the new season’s debut show. “It’s Cultural Celebration Day in The Great Great Forest! So everyone’s invited to bring something that represents their culture. Kids can look forward to sharing fun things about their heritage, playing games and getting creative!”
Mackenzie said due to the Players’ rules, her being currently located on the Blackfeet Reservation means she should be able to supply tickets to Reservation residents for free. For more information, email Mackenzie.firstname.lastname@example.org.