When actor and juggler Andrew P. Quick happened upon Hervé Tullet’s charming, plotless, highly awarded, dot-filled picture book Press Here, he immediately envisioned what it would look like on the stage. Quick mentioned his idea to award-winning playwright/composer Austin Zumbro of Bay Area Children’s Theatre, and together they tossed ideas back and forth as to how this interactive and unique way of storytelling might make a fun show for children, complete with sing-alongs, lots of clapping, and plenty of action involving the key elements of the book: dots.
A juggler looks at dots and sees balls, so it wasn’t much of a leap for Quick to think outside the flat pages of the book and imagine a world where the red, yellow and blue dots come to life and create mischief on the stage.
Quick, 34, and Zumbro, 32, presented their idea for Press Here, the Musical to Bay Area Children’s Theatre’s Executive Artistic Director Nina Meehan, who secured the rights to the book and gave the duo the green light to proceed with creating the show. (She went on to direct this lively production, which is currently in Berkeley through May 12 then moves on to Sunnyvale and San Francisco.
I was delighted when I found Press Here in a museum gift shop several years ago. The humor and guided interaction were a big hit with the grandchildren: readers and not-quite readers alike. The book encourages kids to “do it all over again” at the end, which most little ones will want to do all on their own anyway. Quick and Zumbro cleverly built what all parents know about requests for repetition into the script, so that (no real spoilers here) the actors get more than one chance to “do it all over again,” much to the delight of young audiences.
When I spoke with Quick and Zumbro after a recent performance, I asked them how they arrived at the final version of the show and when they start working on the concept. Press Here, after all, is a simple book with no singing, dancing or juggling. I wondered about the evolutionary process that guided this challenging transition from book to stage.
The original concept went through a few iterations, beginning about two years ago. The first interpretation was a more rigid adherence to the book but, over time, and with creative input from others, things got bigger and bigger, as Tullet intended them to.
Through workshops, artistic spit-balling, a number of rewrites, notes from Meehan, and the rehearsal process, the script finally reached its current shape. Since Tullet asks readers throughout to “press here and turn the page,” Zumbro says, “Audience participation was always part of the plan.” Once the creative team arrived at this vision, it determined the type of music Zumbro wanted to include. (Some of the tight, peppy harmonies may remind the older generation of the Andrews Sisters.)
The style of the show’s world is definitely a throwback to a by-gone era, with its references to vaudeville and Mom and Pop shops. Once that style was established, the rest fell into place: both the set and the music reflect this choice, as do the physical bits of slapstick, the costumes, and the impressive juggling.
As creators of the book, music and lyrics for Press Here, the Musical, Quick and Zumbro took as inspiration a picture book filled with dots that asks readers to use their imagination to make things happen in the moment. And then they created a unique piece of theater that does the same thing.
Press Here, the Musical is playing at BACT’s Berkeley Center, 2055 Center St. in Berkeley through May 12; at the Sunnyvale Community Center, 550 E. Remington Drive in Sunnyvale, May 25-June 2: and at the Children’s Creativity Museum Theater, 221 Fourth Street, San Francisco, June 8-30. For more information, visit www.bactheatre.org