Actor Pat Moran and director Marcella Crowson talk detectives, role models and polar bears.
Q+A By A.L. Adams
All photos by Owen Carey
A.L. Adams: Talk about Timmy’s relationship with Total, his 1,500lb polar bear sidekick.
Pat Moran: Total is Timmy’s right-hand bear, his business partner, and his best friend in the world. They help each other navigate tricky situations, and trust each other implicitly. When you’re eight years old (or any age, really),how wouldn’t your life be improved by the addition of a 1500 lb polar bear?
Marcella Crowson: We should all be so lucky: a buddy who laughs at all of our jokes, has our back in moments of fear and peril, protects us from adversaries, can be counted on for a pat on the back or a big furry paw to hold onto. I’d happily suffer the occasional over-turned garbage can and supply a bottomless bucket of chicken nuggets to have a pal like Total.
A.L.: From Encyclopedia Brown to The Hardy Boys to Nancy Drew, there’s a long history of kid detectives in literature. How does Timmy figure into that tradition, and why is Total Failure, Inc. such an important pursuit for him?
PM: Kids spend a lot of time figuring things out—after all, they’re experiencing everything for the first time. From that natural tendency to try to understand the world around them, it’s a logical next step to kid detectives. The detective agency provides a framework for Timmy to investigate the world around him, particularly when he’s dealing with circumstances that are beyond his control.
MC: A common thread that all kid detectives share is curiosity — maddening, insatiable, curiosity, and a need to apply that curiosity to the solving of mysteries and the righting of wrongs. For Timmy that compulsion may come from his need for purpose and a sense of control, while other parts of his life are in upheaval. Like all good kid detectives, Timmy gets into more than his share of scrapes and close calls, but it’s all in the pursuit of the truth. Though he’s not always headed in the right direction or drawing the correct conclusions, there are worse ways he could be spending his time.
A.L.: Some of Timmy’s actions could be interpreted as misbehaving. How will you shed light on the motivations behind Timmy’s choices? Does he have qualities kids can emulate?
PM: Timmy never intends to be hurtful or malicious. He’s not mean spirited—he just lacks a filter in the same way that many young people do. But he’s doing his best, and he’s also funny, heartfelt, and empathetic.
MC: There’s certainly a genre of children’s literature that seems to focus on, maybe even glorify bad behavior. I don’t happen to think that’s what’s going on in Timmy Failure. Timmy certainly makes mistakes along the way — it’s right there in the title — so I’d be an idiot to suggest he’s a golden child, a model citizen — but who is at the age of 8 (or any age, for that matter)? I think it’s a simplistic view to try to categorize people as either hero or villain, and Timmy Failure’s no exception. Here’s a kid who’s grappling with difficult circumstances at home, feeling lonely and fearful about his future, and financial difficulties force him and his mom to move to an apartment where he sleeps on a foldaway bed in the living room. That’s a lot for anyone to make sense of, much less an 8 year old. Not only is Timmy not broken by this, but he finds a way to rise (granted, not always in the right directions.) Are there qualities to be emulated? You bet. Here’s a kid who’s industrious, creative, committed, focused (if not always on the right things), and loyal. Just because he sees the world through a different lens than the rest of us doesn’t make him a trouble-maker. I honestly believe that Timmy isn’t acting out of malice or disrespect. Like everyone, he wants to be loved and accepted for who he is; he wants to feel like he matters, that he has something to contribute. Failure Inc. is his pathway to accomplishing that. ” Mistakes were made.” He admits that himself in the final moments of the play. Timmy’s a funny, hopeful, smart kid
A.L.: How does the stage adaptation of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made translate the comedic and graphic nature of the book into theatrical storytelling?
PM: The book is incredibly funny. Not only does playwright Finegan Kruckmeyer capture the humor of the book, but he’s added comedic elements that riff on the theatrical nature of the show. The cast couldn’t be more perfect for their roles, and stage designer Curt Enderle has done an amazing job bringing Timmy’s world to life onstage. The play works really well as a companion piece to the book, but can stand alone as well.
MC: For starters, it requires hiring a playwright who gets the book, who understands Timmy and the world Stephan has created. But it also requires a playwright with a distinct voice of their own who can simultaneously honor the DNA of the book while bringing it to life in a uniquely theatrical way. Finegan Kruckemeyer is that playwright. There’s a rhythm to the book, to how language and illustrations work together to reveal information and deliver punchlines. The alchemy that has to happen between author/artist, playwright, and performers to bring the page to the stage is honestly a bit of a high-wire act. It requires the very best comedic performers, performers who are fearless and bold but also precise and in total control. And of course the other ingredient is the physical world we create for the story to unfold — and that work comes from our genius design team. We’re incredibly lucky to have Curt Enderle on board to quite literally translate the page to the stage. People who know and love the book will feel like they’ve walked into a pop-up version of it.
A.L.: Timmy Failure isn’t just an extended comic strip about Timmy. There are some complicated circumstances and relationships being played out in both the book and the stage adaptation. How are adults represented in Timmy Failure? What insights does the story offer about parents and kids meeting challenges together?
PM: Adults often feel they have to shield or protect young people from what’s “really” going on, but kids are way savvier and more aware than adults realize. The adults in Timmy are in some ways the most realistic part of the show—you’ve got a single mom who’s working as hard as she can to maintain a quality relationship with her son while managing a household by herself. You’ve got teachers dealing with a reluctant student. Not all the adults in the play are positive role models, but that’s not how real life works, either. The entire world underestimates Timmy Failure—everyone except for his mom. Most of the people in Timmy’s world see him as an outsider, but Timmy’s mom is compassionate, caring, and goes out of her way to make sure that Timmy is loved and taken care of. She recognizes that even though he can be a handful, he’s got so much to offer with the right support and encouragement.
MC: The adults in Timmy failure are represented as flawed, fearful, loving, spirited, insightful, bumbling, wise, earnest, hilarious, and generous. So yeah, they’re represented as human beings. They get some things right and some things wrong, but most of them are doing the best they can. Again, we might want to put some of them in the hero box and others in the villain box, but that diminishes the story and the cast of characters. What’s interesting to me is that this isn’t a story where the kids save the day in spite of dim-witted adults, and neither is it a story about misbehaving kids that are magically transformed into angels through the intervention of perfect all-knowing adults. The kids and the grown-ups are stumbling hand-in-hand toward being slightly better humans than they were a minute ago. There’s so much funny to be found in our failings, and so much to learn from watching imperfect people figure things out (occasionally the hard way).
Oregon Children’s Theatre presents Timmy Failure : Mistakes Were Made. Feb 28 – Mar 22 | Saturdays @ 2pm & 5pm, Sundays @ 2pm, plus 11am show on Sunday, Mar 1st.
Click here for tickets