When Michelle Pauls first opened The Walking Fish Theatre on Frankford Avenue in East Kensington seven years ago, it was one of the only places of its kind in the area.
Today, it has become one of many theaters in the area, serving as a sharing place for a variety of unique performances, from original plays and burlesque shows, to comedy standup nights and yoga.
“This is where the magic happens,” Pauls said from the stands of the theater that seats an audience of around 50 people. People flock from as far as South Jersey to attend performances at The Walking Fish, she said.
Just in time for the holiday season, the theater’s most recent production, American Fairy Tales, features the stories of The Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum. Stan Heleva, who adapted the play, said he hopes it will draw large crowds.
“This is a show where you can come and leave your troubles at the door,” said Heleva, who invites the audience to come and enjoy the “slap-dash, mad-dash fun.”
American Fairy Tales will feature three family-friendly fantasy stories, and will be an interactive show.
The Walking Fish Theatre prides itself in its accessibility to young people in particular, Pauls said. Port Richmond native Michael Trainor, 16, has been at the Walking Fish long enough to call the place home. “I like the homey quality,” Trainor said, “I feel like I could live here, like I can sleep backstage.”
Since he was 8 years old, when he saw a flier for acting classes in his neighborhood, he went on to perform in multiple productions. “It rules,” Trainor said of his experience at the Walking Fish.
Even younger than Trainor, Helen Sher of Northern Liberties also joined the Walking Fish family at a young age. Part of a family in which both parents are actors, Sher said she shares their passion for being on stage and having the ability to evoke emotion in an audience.
Despite the large age gap in the group of actors, who range in age from 12 to adult, it fails to faze the two younger cast members, they said. “It’s really fun,” Sher said, “it doesn’t even feel like I’m younger.”
Although he is new to the Fishtown area, David Ferrier, a Milwaukee native, is not new to performing. Usually accustomed to working in haunted houses during the Halloween season, Ferrier had to ditch the zombie makeup for the family friendly American Fairy Tales.
“This is very different from what I’m used to,” Ferrier said, “but I always try to challenge myself.”
Ferrier said he is excited for his debut performance at the Walking Fish, as well as for the opportunities the theater gives to not only local performers, but local filmmakers as well, who have the chance to screen their independent films to a live audience.
“It’s a forum for people to get their stuff out there; I’ve had films screened there, and as well as other local filmmakers in the area,” Ferrier said.
In addition to providing local residents with a variety of unique performances, the Walking Fish has also been commended for its service to the community.
In 2010, the theater was awarded a Barrymore Award for Excellence in Theatre for the program “Of Mythic Proportions,” which focuses on theatre education at local schools.
“It’s a great luxury to have a professional theater in your own neighborhood,” Heleva said.
Besides the inevitable nervousness just before the curtain opens, the American Fairy Tales cast and crew said they are excited to kick start their performances, which begin on Dec. 18 and will continue through Dec. 31.
“I hope people laugh until they have tears coming out of their eyes,” Ferrier said.
The actors also want those who attend to connect with the characters in the play on a personal level.
“People should really get to know the characters,” Sher said.
“Acting is a vocation that chooses you,” Pauls said, “It’s something you are called to do.” ull;•
For tickets, visit walkingfishtheatre.com.
Carolan DiFiore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.