Wonders of the theater revealed

Tobias Wegner takes questions from first-grade students from Meeting Street Academy after an abridged performance of “Leo” on Tuesday.

The theater is meant to be a place of wonder. On Tuesday, young students from Charleston’s Meeting Street Academy were invited to the Emmett Robinson Theatre for a behind-the-scenes look at “Leo,” a one-man show from Berlin’s Circle of Eleven theater company. The day’s activities included a short performance, Q&A with star, Tobias Wegner, and backstage tour.

Educational outreach ranks as one of Circle of Eleven’s top priorities, explained Company Manager Jim Weiner.

“Part of the goal of the company is to broaden audiences, however we can,” he said. “We often invite students into the theater to see how our shows are constructed.”

Today’s program was initiated by the Spoleto Festival. LaBruce Trammell, communications assistant for Spoleto, began by asking the elementary school kids if they knew what the festival was. Though most shook their heads “no,” one said, “It’s where people show their talents!”

Then Wegner took the stage. For the next 30 minutes, he was Leo, the sole character in this early Spoleto hit. Leo appears on stage in two places simultaneously: in a petite room and on screen. Through the use of video projection, his on-screen presence appears to be defying gravity.

During the performance, the kids were abuzz. Wegner’s acrobatics were met with “ahhhs,” his upside-down pushups with gasps. As Wegner swam through an animated ocean, the kids hooted and hollered, warning him of the lurking whale. When he exited the room (through an illuminated suitcase) they erupted in applause, mystified by what they had just seen.

Moments later, Wegner returned to the stage, this time as himself.

“How do you think this works?” he asked.

“I think you’re just laying down,” one child said.

Many hands shot up and answers were thrown about, but it took some investigating to narrow it down.

Wegner explained that, with help from Clemons in the tech booth (“Hi, Lemons,” the kids shouted), his image is captured by a camera, and then projected onto the screen at a 90-degree angle.

He said it wasn’t important whether the children understood perfectly what was happening, as long it piqued their interest in theater.

“To see theater one way and then to understand how it works will make them think,” he said.

After a few more questions, Wegner invited 6-year-old Justin Coleman on stage to try it out. Later, he offered an assessment.

“It was really cool when he was knocking on the door and then when he was up in the air,” Justin said.

Eventually, all the kids were welcomed to the stage to take a peek behind the curtain. Wegner revealed many of the production’s secrets, including how he got out of the room. Pointing to a rectangular opening in the set, he said, “It’s kind of small for me. I can’t eat too much.”

The show-and-tell concluded with questions. A sea of curious children crowded around Wegner.

After the children left, Wegner said he likes to share the wonders of theater with others.

“I like to introduce new people to theater who maybe wouldn’t normally be there,” he said. “That’s a big passion for me, to show people around the place where I work.”

Mary Gibble is a Newhouse School graduate student.