Remember those far-fetched, out of this world and almost incomprehensible tales we all wrote as children? The ones about mythical creatures like dragons and talking animals that go on quests? Or about sassy aliens coming down to Earth for the sole purpose of trickery? Now imagine those same stories being performed right before your eyes by a musically-talented, comedically-gifted group of Stanford students. That is exactly what Flying Treehouse, Stanford’s only repertory children’s theater group, brings to life through each of their shows.
On Thursday, students packed the lounge of Kimball Hall in order to snag a coveted seat at Flying Treehouse’s first performance of the year, “The Dragon on Frost Mountain and Other Stories.” Flying Treehouse is a Stanford student theater group that teaches creative writing to local elementary school students at Oak Knoll Elementary and East Palo Alto Charter School. Last spring, Flying Treehouse taught creative writing to these students over Zoom, and last night these tales were brought to life in a full performance, complete with costumes and set pieces. Earlier in the day, the Flying Treehouse cast performed the same skits for some of their young writers. Flying Treehouse Director Freya Forstall ʼ22 describes the production process as a collaborative effort and takes joy in sharing children’s stories.
“I just want people to laugh, feel joy and remember that there are kids out there with the most crazy wonderful imaginations. A lot of this stems from the kids’ imaginations, but it’s also our imaginations too. We’re always working together,” Forstall said. “Having audience members return to this state of child-like wonder is great.”
The stories portrayed lessons of friendship, perseverance and the importance of helping others while also making sly literary references to George Orwell’s “1984” and cracking jokes about taxes. The first short scene was preceded by a single question: “Who here is lactose intolerant?”
What ensued was based on a short story entitled “the pizza and the MILK!!” Performers donning makeshift costumes took the stage and a tragic struggle for supermarket power ensued between the tyrannical, self-absorbed Pizza and the insistent, short-winded Milk. The arrival of Soy Milk, Yogurt, Ice Cream and Cheddar Cheese exacerbated the confrontation only for Pizza to exile Milk to the distant land of the frozen aisle. In the end, each dairy product came to a harmonious agreement which resulted in Pizza accepting the equally-awesome nature of their enemy-turned-friend, Milk. The scene concluded with a group hug, which seemed to be a common (sweet) theme in most performances throughout the night, as they thawed their former iciness “with the warmth of their affection.”
Five more short performances followed: “The Dragon on Frost Mountain,” “Untitled (We are Truth-Tellers),” “About the Narwhal” and “Metal is Stronger than Paper.” The sentimental performances were very enjoyable: the unlikely friendship between a dragon and a little girl had the audience “oohing” and “ahhing,” and a rap battle between Paper and Metal commanded the stage with clever rhymes.
During each performance, one musical element set the tone in a simple, yet profound way: the piano accompaniment. At various emotional points, rounded and deep notes fill the air or jaunty and whimsical keys fill the senses. It was a perfect way to add to the minimalistic setting and create an interactive experience.
After these longer scenes, Flying Treehouse performed what they call “Shorts,” a ten-minute-long verbatim “rapid fire” of additional short stories written by the elementary school students. This portion of the performance was arguably the most comical and thrilling. Some stories promoted Limon Hot Cheeto propaganda while others detailed the treacherous implications of french-fry cannibals. While watching these “Shorts,” the audience realized that these storylines could only have been concocted by the unfettered imaginations and unbounded filters of children. These tales slithered their way into the deepest parts of the audience’s icy, sleep-deprived college student hearts and reminded us what it’s like to be kids again. Members of Flying Treehouse understand the significance of their hilarious, yet moving, performances.
“Flying Treehouse is my favorite part about Stanford. I didn’t know what I wanted to do my freshman year, but this led me to study education and child development,” said Publicity Coordinator and former Teaching Coordinator of Flying Treehouse Flora Troy ʼ23. “It helped me realize my passion for working with kids and making their dreams come true. Really what Flying Treehouse comes down to is empowering their voices and that’s my favorite part.”
The last few stories continued to capitalize on the laughter in the air before the show came to a close with one final song, “How The Zebra Got Its Stripes.” Flying Treehouse’s performance at Kimball Hall communicated profound themes in relatable and accessible ways through the means of light-heartedness and effervescence.
“They are masters of turning children’s stories into something that is comedic and relatable to the average audience,” “They are masters of turning children’s stories into something that is comedic and relatable to the average audience. It brings joy to everyone that watches it and it’s really precious to see how these stories and the ideas that people come up with as children extrapolate into stories and worries we have as college students,” said audience member Briar Conger ’21. “It brings joy to everyone that watches it and it’s really precious to see how these stories and the ideas that people come up with as children extrapolate into stories and worries we have as college students.”
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.