Fairy tales at the Fish

The Walk­ing Fish is bring­ing act­ors — in­clud­ing very young ones — from NoLibs, Fishtown and Port Rich­mond to­geth­er to per­form just in time for the hol­i­days.      

Matt Shell (left) and Sarah Braun (right) re­hearse a scene on stage at the Walk­ing Fish Theatre. CAR­O­LAN DI­FIORE / STAR PHOTO

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 cdi­fiore@bsmphilly.com.  

You can reach at cdifiore@bsmphilly.com.

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