Radioactive Spyder at KidsFest at Toronto Fringe Festival is a musical developed in part by the grade 5 and 6 students of Equinox Holistic Alternative School, and performed by performers 10 – 15 years old from Spyder Theatre Company. It was an hour of 15 incredibly talented kids singing and dancing and having a blast. It was an hour well-spent.
But I’m going to talk about the fact that it’s an hour long. I have this quibble with other KidsFest shows too. As a parent, and as a person who has sat in the audience of shows with lots of kids, I genuinely believe kids shows should not be longer than 45 minutes. In fact, a lot should be shorter than that.
In this case, it would be hard to make it shorter than 45 minutes, but my main issue with it is that it is too long. Although some may be in pacing, ultimately I think the cutting needs to happen in Deborah Adelman’s script.
But let’s talk about the great stuff.
I loved that the show launched right off with a song. It got the energy in the room up right away. It also meant that I got to see Evlyn O’Toole and Claire MacMaster’s choreography early on, and I really appreciated it. It felt appropriate for the group. Even though there were varying levels of ability in the cast, the choreography married those skill levels nicely.
The costumes were also fantastic. A designer isn’t listed in the program, so I’m not sure if credit goes to director Rae-Anna Maitland or someone else, but I really appreciated them. They were simple but effective. Black leggings, and a black tee-shirt with a cartoon image of the animal that each actor was portraying. They were also delightfully gender-neutral. Which brings up a part of the script I really appreciated. The character of Protozoa is very deliberately introduced as non-binary with they/them pronouns. I love this simple act of inclusion and can imagine that it would feel pretty great to a non-binary kid watching the show.
Unfortunately, the performance I saw was riddled with sound issues. Including first sound not outputting from the keyboard, then when it was fixed, the keyboard being far too loud for the rest of the performance and drowning out the kids’ voices. But I imagine that will be worked out for subsequent performances.
All of these kids were great. They all offered up fantastic performances, and the energy that was coming off the stage was really wonderful.
Sara Lake (Radioactive Spyder) and Naomi Koven (Radon Ratty) make a great team. Lake sets the tone for the show as, right off the top, she treats us to a great song full of energy. As the show progresses, Koven’s confidence shines through as she helps Spyder rise to the top.
Maddi Knapp (Protozoa) carries a presence on stage with their wisdom of the ages. They also perform two of the highest energy songs in the show – a rap, and the closing song – both of which really seemed to grab the attention of the kids in the audience.
Full of charisma and clearly comfortable on stage, Lucas Kalechstein (Gator The Narrator) offers up dynamic – if sometimes goofy – humour from a character who seems like he might be a little rough around the edges, and then surprises us with a stunningly melodic voice.
Another great singer, Keira Kay (Python) manages to have an incredibly expressive face while she sings, no small feat. The shadow puppetry work she and Lake do together is also really great.
It was fun to watch Mika Haensel (Bully Frog) as he inhabited his character throughout, but I was particularly blown away during a song that was supposed to have music accompanying it, and none played. He didn’t even miss a beat. He just pushed through. In fact, it was so seamless that I had to look over at the accompanist to see what was happening – to see if we suddenly had our first acapella song. When I did, I could see her playing, but no sound was coming out. Lots of seasoned performers can’t pull that off.
Movement was a big part of the show for everyone, but two performers really stood out for me in terms of movement in different ways. With Evlyn O’Toole (Crafty Coyote) it was dancing. She had beautiful lines, with lovely extension and great rhythm. During Protozoa’s rap number, she did an aerial – a no-handed cartwheel – that made everyone whoop. For Akin Mponjika (Wild Boar) it was an overall physicality. He inhabited his body fully. While it did come through in his dance as well, I was incredibly aware of it through his fluid, comfortable movements that accompanied his comedic timing and solid delivery.
Ania Rudzik (Pink Flamingo) and Alan Cui (Blue Heron) inhabited their characters beautifully and had great chemistry and energy together. Their playful way of interacting was fun to watch. Rudzik’s consistency with maintaining her animal posture was particularly impressive.
Making me smile whenever they were on stage, Serena Wang (Sea Turtle) had an energy that lit up the stage every time she was on it, and Coltrane Baumal’s (Manatee) joy was infectious.
Lua Olafson-Ramos (Mick Mouse) and Beatrice Tamburro (Minn Mouse) were excellent in their vital but often undervalued role of supporting cast members through excellent choral work and providing segues between scenes.
And, finally, when she needed to, Sydney Rasmussen (Walt Disney) could blend into the background, but when she came forward, she anchored the action and provided great presence when taking centre stage.
This isn’t going to be a life-changing piece of theatre, but it really was great to watch all these kids having so much fun.
- Radioactive Spyder plays at the George Ignatieff Theatre. (15 Devonshire Pl.)
- Tickets for Kidsfest shows are $5 for kids (age 12 and younger); adults pay $13.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- The George Ignatieff Theatre is wheelchair-accessible, and has wide aisles for easy mid-show exits.
- Don’t miss the Kidsfest club located on the lawn adjacent to the venue! Free activities for children (3-12) and caregivers run every day of the festival: see website for details.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Thursday July 4th, 2:45 pm
- Saturday July 6th, 4:45 pm
- Monday July 8th, 11:30 am
- Tuesday July 9th, 4:00 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 12:45 pm
- Friday July 12th, 2:15 pm
- Sunday July 14th, 2:30 pm
Photo of the company by Mila Gillis-Adelman