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Pip's Island returns with an all-new interactive family adventure starting March 11, 2019.
A new immersive experience invites children to become part of the show
Live stage productions based on popular kids' movies and TV shows are nothing new -- see Disney's The Lion King and Aladdin on Broadway; Nickelodeon's SpongeBob Musical, which had a buzzy tryout in Chicago; and myriad national stadium tours of properties like Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. But a children's theatrical experience inspiring screen spin-offs? That's the novel goal for the creators of Pip's Island, an hour-long immersive journey in which young audience members are tasked with saving a magical land from destruction.
It's actually a very clever way to hook kids -- and their parents. Hands-on activities are much more stimulating than passive entertainment, and Pip's Island requires children to be engaged both mentally and physically from the get-go. Explorers ages 4 to 8 (or so) don vests that light up as they navigate different environments and complete challenges that earn them Sparks, which are ultimately used to vanquish Joules Volter, the villain threatening the peaceful isle. Along the way, they meet the island's fantastical inhabitants, who are brought to life by human actors, puppets, and animation. It's an imaginative hybrid of low- and high-tech design with a rich mythology that begs to be expanded to other media.
Perhaps that's why the trio behind Pip's Island -- siblings Rania and Rami Ajami, a filmmaker and finance professional respectively, and Walter Krudop, an animator -- are reluctant to label the show as, well, a show. "The three of us have spent three years building this," says Rania. "We're creating a world where kids can play and get involved with the story." Adds Krudop, "It's almost like a double theatrical experience because the kids are doing the show, but the parents are watching the kids, which is a totally separate experience."
Both Rania and Krudop are parents of young children, and they say the lack of interactive, multimedia activities for families prompted them to create Pip's Island. "When I first had my son seven years ago, it was when the iPad had just launched," Rania recalls. "I was really feeling underwhelmed in terms of interactive things to do, even in a major city like New York City. If you take your kids to a play or to the cinema, they have to sit down and stay still. So we thought, 'What if we brought together our skill sets?' Walter and I are both storytellers, and Rami has an interest in education. Let's create an immersive adventure where kids can be the heroes and the stars at the same time."
Although the story line is easy enough for even young elementary schoolers to follow, a pair of human guides encourages teamwork and assists the kids with the various tasks so parents can hang back and appreciate the spectacular design. Each Range (aka room) is unique and meticulously rendered via props, set dressing, lighting, projections, and special effects. When I attended, I was particularly blown away (no pun intended) by the blizzard we needed to hike through, believably conjured by loud fans and white confetti. But kids seemed most taken with the underwater, black light-lit realm, ruled by a show tune-singing princess named Shelly and filled with bubbles that left glowing residue when they burst on your skin.
Rania doesn't hide their epic ambitions for the project -- she's already thinking about Pip's 2.0. "As we progress, we may put more emphasis on the interactive parts; we may add more playground elements and obstacles courses," she says. "Animation and technology are big parts of it. We want to integrate more gadgets and aspects kids need to figure out, like an escape room."
Although this run of Pip's Island is set to close on January 8, the team hopes that fresh installments will delve into different parts of the island. There's even talk of giving future incarnations a Choose Your Own Adventure-style structure, so kids could make decisions that would impact the narrative. And related books, apps, and other branded experiences are being developed, too, so the voyage could continue once the kids get home.
"Even in this live event, you see all those elements working together: puppets, songs, games, and animation," says Rania. "That's why we get frustrated with the term 'theatre.' This experience really draws from all the different art forms."
Photos by Thom Kaine