‘The Modern Guide to Heroism & Sidekickery’ does exactly what it says on the tin, presenting ideas for how to be a hero and support heroes in this modern world.
Michelle Zahner performs on stage by herself for the entire show barring some audience participation and one of the show’s secret weapons is how likeable she is as a performer engaging directly with the crowd.
Michelle performs as two characters throughout, a rooftop prowler who seeks to solve her city’s problems and a young paperboy on the streets below who is happy to be drafted as her sidekick since nobody has been paying attention to him for a long time and this is a chance to do something with someone. Michelle plays both characters effortlessly with quick costume changes and subtle shifts in body language. Doing this in full sight of the audience is not unlike a Brechtian play and there is a constant sense of encouraging everyone to look beneath the surface. Unlike a Brechtian play, Michelle definitely wants to stir your emotions.
Themes abound about courage, media hype and disconnection in a modern world with meta-commentary on the tropes of the comic book genre featuring throughout. As one of the characters points out at one stage “There are more layers to this story than there were in ‘Inception’.” The heart of it though is in the title and it is one that resonates.
There was use of shadow puppets on overhead projectors, props being hung in the air and nefarious baguettes. With hooks hanging from the ceiling and belts featuring as part of costumes I was waiting for someone to take flight up into the ceiling of the Stores Studio.
Maybe as the show continues to expand and be developed they will, although maybe that wouldn’t be in keeping with the themes of it. It was such an intimate piece with the performer in such close proximity to the whole audience. It was about how small deeds can resonate, and not really about heroes with superpowers. Still some bigger production values wouldn’t be unwelcome to match with the touching and insightful commentary on this genre of storytelling and of what lies in our hearts for helping the greater good.
For now Michelle Zahner is continuing to develop a thoughtful piece of writing and bringing it to life with charm, humour and heart. Whatever she chooses to do next, it will be worthwhile checking out.