“ALL ABOARD!” Get ready to jump on the imagination train in this fun stage adaptation of The Little Engine That Could.

If you’ve never experienced a performance at the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre—you’re missing out. Before kids, my husband and I would get a season pass so we could see as many plays as possible. Their annual production of A Christmas Carol is a long-standing holiday tradition in Indianapolis and is always so well done.

The Little Choo-Choo That Thinks She Can

The Cabaret at The Indiana Repertory Theatre
October 9 – 27, 2019 &
February 22 – March 8, 2020

Written by James Still
Directed by Benjamin Hanna

So when I wanted to introduce 3 and 7 year old boys to the theater, of course I’d start with Exploring Stages at the IRT. Exploring Stages is theater designated for children 3-8. The 2019 season welcomes The Little Choo-Choo That Thinks She Can to the IRT, running October 8-27, 2019 and February 18-March 8, 2019. It’s not only entertaining, but creatively immersive. My kids were fascinated from the start.

This play in is The IRT Cabaret, a more intimate venue on the third floor. The first thing that is different is there are no assigned seats. In fact there aren’t many seats altogether. The “stage” is two intersecting paths along the floor with green “grass” around the edges. You can sit around the edge of the theatre, but you and your children are encouraged to sit as close to the stage as possible. Just stay on the grass!

Before the play begins, the actors come out and play with the children. My 3 year old was invited to color leaves with some other children and jumped at the opportunity. The leaves were actually used as part of the set and he thought that was the coolest. Other children got to experiment with some musical instruments or play games. My second grader was a little more reserved and wanted to scoot away from the stage. No problem, there is plenty of room for the more casual observer.

The actors also go over the rules for watching a play and how to be a good audience. Sitting on your pockets, in the grass is one way to be a good participant. As is clapping when you’re happy or think the actors have done well. Now it’s time to get into the story.

We all know the story of the Little Engine That Could, but in this version “brother” and “sister” use their imaginations to play “special delivery” over the really big hill. The “conductor” adds lively sounds effects throughout and the set itself comes to life as many of the decorations turn into props and instruments. This is what really captivated my kids. The idea of the story being told through play—exactly how kids learn—really put the story on their level. And, the audience is always involved in the play.  The actors engage the kids with sounds and props. The audience naturally begins to sing along. Even my 7 year old couldn’t help but chant “I know you can!” every time sister tried to get up the really big hill.

The whole play is really designed for children. From the actors to the set; even the program is filled with games and coloring. The length of the play and activities are perfect for the 3-8 year old age group (about 65 minutes). The IRT has really thought about this from a child’s point of view and made it a special experience for them. I won’t give away the end, but each participant leaves with good feeling and even better message.

My kids were singing the songs and playing with their programs the whole way home. My preschooler decided triumphantly that he wanted to be an actor or a puppy, maybe both. We all want to go back and can’t wait to see what they offer in the 2020 season. I hope it’s the beginning of a life-long love of the arts and the theater.