Ashley Laverty doesn’t mind when her shows have an element of chaos.
In fact, she encourages it.
It’s also the reason why the Arizona State University student has named her theater company Kerfuffle, which means a commotion or fuss. The company produces interactive performances for children age 5 and younger.
“There have been a lot of chaotic moments during our shows, but we try to embrace them and remember chaos is not a bad thing,” said Laverty, who is an MFA student in the School of Film, Dance and Theater.
“Obviously things will always go wrong in a production and that is OK. We don’t try and fix it. This is a show for children under 5, and we want them to behave like they’re under 5. They don’t have to sit still if they don’t want to.”
Laverty’s words come on the eve of her first production, “The Caterpillar’s Footprint,” which began an 18-show engagement at Mesa’s i.d.e.a. Museum on Tuesday. It runs through March 13.
The 30-minute magical show takes the audience on a journey through a fantasy forest where a bear, a dinosaur and a fox meet a caterpillar. Featuring music and puppets inside a 14-foot dome with mushroom-cap seats, it’s designed to engage very young audiences.
A recent dress rehearsal started when the bear and the dinosaur chummed up Owyn and Joel Gramp — ages 6 and 3, respectively — in an outside play area. Once the Gramps became familiar with the characters, they were invited into a “forest,” which included rugs, logs, pillows and flowerpots. After a few minutes, the flap of the Kerfuffle tent was opened and the two were treated to the performance. The boys smiled, giggled and laughed aloud at times. Their eyes also revealed a few lightbulb moments.
“I saw a need for this type of theater because it just doesn’t exist in Arizona,” Laverty said of targeting very young children. “This is a way for young children to sit and watch theater that fosters their imagination, helps develop their brains and to be engaged with the characters.”
The inspiration for “The Caterpillar’s Footprint” came after Kerfuffle’s team, which includes fellow MFA students Amanda Pintore and Andy Waldron, spent time with children attending Mesa’s Good Earth Montessori School and Bright Horizons at ASU.
“There are lots of moments during the show where we interact with each individual in the audience and they have the option to speak, laugh, react or not even go into the tent,” said Pintore, who plays the part of the curious caterpillar. “We’re not going to tell them, ‘No,’ or how to react or behave as long as they are safe. We don’t have traditional expectations of our audience.”
Waldron, who plays the part of the bear and the fox, said “The Caterpillar’s Footprint” is special because it’s reactive to each individual child.
“As a performer there is a certain structure, but we improvise based on what they give us,” Waldron said. “We greet each child and realize their ideas and creativity in real time.”
The show is also Laverty’s culminating applied project for completion in the Masters of Fine Arts Theatre for Youth program at ASU. It is also a Pave Arts Venture Incubator 2015 grant recipient.
Laverty, a former children’s theater actress in New York City, playwright and artist in residence at Lowell Elementary School in Mesa, said starting Kerfuffle has been challenging at times but ultimately rewarding.
“I’ve never started a theater company before and I’ve never written a thesis before, so combining these two elements for my applied project has been stressful,” Laverty said. “But I must say to see these young children so engaged and affected has been amazing, which makes it all worth it. It’s really been special.”
“The Caterpillar’s Footprint”
When: March 8-13
Where: i.d.e.a. Museum, 150 W. Pepper Place, Mesa
Details: For performance times, tickets and additional details, visit this page.
Top photo: Actor Amanda Pintore, as a caterpillar, allows 3-year-old Joel Gramp to touch her head in the dress rehearsal of Kerfuffle production of "The Caterpillar's Footprint" at the i.d.e.a. Museum in Mesa, on March 7. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now