Photo Credits: Josh Marshall
at PMTO Studios
The opinions in this feature
solely reflect the
opinions of Eric Scherer.
They in no way purport
to represent HIT
Any opinions expressed in this
feature are those of
Eric Scherer alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Sodor Island
Fansite or HIT Entertainment.
If you had
told me as a child (actually, if you had
told me a year ago) that at 25, I would be giving stage directions to the
woman that created the television series that made up most of my childhood, I
would have rolled my eyes and said you were insane. There is no way that Britt
Allcroft would have time in her schedule to even recognize my crazy bald self.
Even if she did, I would end up embarrassing myself and making a complete fool
out of all of the people around me. I am very pleased to report that this is
nowhere even close to what happened.
As a child,
Thomas played an important role in my
younger years. In fact, it was with the assistance of Bill and Ben ERTL toys
that I was potty trained. My mother thought they would be a great incentive.
Little did she know the crazy train-obsessed child she had created. From there,
the collection continued (as did my love)
for Thomas and Friends, Shining Time Station, and reading
all of the wonderful stories. Before moving to Florida, the last item we bought
prior to heading down was the complete collection of the Reverend’s stories. In
2000, I was definitely on the older end of the children that saw Thomas and the Magic Railroad
in theaters, but nevertheless I enjoyed the experience and being able to spend
time with my family.
years went by and I grew older, I knew I
would become distracted with other life duties: getting a job, finishing
school, going to college, etc. I kept Thomas at a distance (and probably for the best
as the quality of
the episodes had diminished from that point), but I still followed the
progression of the series with a significant amount of help from SiF.
school, I did a test and adjust phase of my organization, Actors Reaching Out
(ARO). Throughout this time, I experimented in seeing what it was like to have
a lead in a show, direct, design and construct a set, edit music and video, and
basically everything else needed to put a successful production together. For 3
years, I could not construct the organization that I needed and because of that
I hit rock bottom. I became very stressed, lost several friends in the process,
and could not focus on moving my career forward. It was at this point I decided
to move drop everything, transfer schools, obtain a new job, and move out to
Orlando where I could start over and have new opportunities.
to write scripts and edit music even though ARO was nonexistent at this point.
I knew someday we would be able to bring this back together. In September 2014,
with the motivation from a group of people, we formed our Executive Board for
Actors Reaching Out and signed our Constitution. In Spring 2015, we became an
official 501(c)3 nonprofit. Things were looking like they were moving forward.
Then we hit another roadblock. We had our first three shows and nothing booked
after that. I had no idea what would happen to the organization.
In March, I decided to take a trip with one of my
friends to one of the Day Out with Thomas
events, which I never had the opportunity to attend as a child. I am very glad
I had a friend with me because a 23 year old walking around a children’s event
just seems weird. My friend, a teacher in Sarasota, quite enjoyed the event. We
discussed our opinions on everything. Obviously, the train ride with Thomas was
absolutely wonderful. Thomas talking was also a weird and amazing experience.
It was also wonderful to see the children so excited about this event. There
were several issues with the event though. Many of the volunteers had ear buds
while working and seemed completely uninterested in hearing what the children
had to say. The two entertainment offerings they had were a magician, who
wasn’t half bad and was entertaining to the children, and an older gentleman
with a guitar, who looked like he would rather be retired on the other coast of
the state than be here at this event. The entire time I kept saying to myself
“I can do better. What can I do to prove I can do better?” It was at that
moment I decided to start constructing a Thomas theatrical event to celebrate
the 70th anniversary.
There were a LOT of issues with trying to figure
this out. What songs would we use? How would they go from one to another? Would
we use the engines? How would they be portrayed on stage? As you can see, a lot
of careful planning had to be put into this. Knowing that our budget for our
organization was basically non-existent, this whole production had to be
carefully constructed to make it as enjoyable and budget-friendly as possible.
After all, the last thing I wanted to do was come on stage in painted cardboard
boxes and say “Look. We are the trains.” That would have been embarrassing and
I made the
decision to create brand new human characters that represented the various
lines of business of the railway: Engineer, Mechanic, Guard, Fireman, and
Station Master. In doing this, I created the Sodor Railway Society, a group of
railroad workers from the Island of Sodor that travel to educate and celebrate
everything about the railway. These characters, which resembled a mixture of
personalities from our favorite engines, would then utilize the songs and
stories of Thomas in order to enhance the audience experience and to really
drive the specific lesson the society was trying to get across.
I made sure I
created one specific character that the children would be able to connect with,
and that is where Riley comes in. Riley is a younger girl in the Sodor Railway
Society that is in training to become an official Engineer. Through the
familiar Thomas characters and situations, the rest of the members are able to
teach Riley as much as possible about her role and how to be the best railway
Choosing the songs and stories
was a massive
challenge. There was an internal battle of do I use more of the Awdry stories
or go through the 450+ episodes of the television series and pick from there,
and which of the dozens of songs best represent the character of Thomas as well
as the situations the Society gets into on stage. I finally narrowed it down to
three stories: Thomas and the Breakdown
Train, Thomas and the Guard, and Thomas
Comes to Breakfast. Not only were these favorite stories of mine, but also
for those people that helped create them. In addition, these stories showcase
several of Thomas’ character traits including his bravery, impatience, and
boastfulness. At the end of these stories, there is also a lesson learned that
continues to shine through for Riley and her goals.
The songs took a bit
longer to go through. There
are dozens of Thomas songs that have been written over the last 30 years. I
decided the only way to decide which songs needed to go into the show was to
listen through every single one of them. This took multiple rounds of
eliminating (although a good chunk of
them were out in the first round), but we finally found the songs that best
fit the theme of the show.
game happened next. We had no venue to perform the show and no idea if we were
even going to be able to perform it live. Finally, we received a call from the
Orange County Library System, which booked us for 3 performances over the
course of the Fall. Thrilled and nervous, we continued on our crazy adventure.
rewrites, edits, song cuts, and cast changes (as there are with any show), we
were ready for our huge premiere. A
few things were taken from the outcome of the first performance:
1) There were significantly more females in the audience than
in the cast could have predicted or anticipated, showing that the marketing for
Thomas should not be just geared towards males.
2) The entire audience was impressed by our cast of 5 females
me, the casting of which was unintentional but just happened to work out like
3) The cast needed a tad more knowledge on some of the newer
characters. Some of the children brought their Thomas Wooden Railway trains
with them to the show. When one of our girls asked which train it was, the
child replied “Dash.” Silence. I came in and proceeded to have a conversation
about the Logging Locos with the child. More silence from the cast. After the
event, I was asked about the Misty Island trio, and I knew I had my work cut
out for me.
4) The most important takeaway from the event was the realization
that we needed to add choreography to the show. When first starting out, I could
not process these songs having the ability to translate choreographically on
stage. I did not realize until the moment we were in the show singing just how
awkward it felt not to be moving during these catchy songs. Therefore, another
challenge arose- figuring out the dance moves for our next performance.
After some more script rewrites and the
addition of choreography, we were ready for our next performances. The
immediate connections and conversations with the children were even better than
the first show. Specifically, there was a young boy named Thomas who had
recently celebrated his birthday. It turns out that one of our cast members
worked with his mom.
The final performance of the show was
definitely bittersweet (specifically
sweet, because I had Baskin Robbins for the first time after the show). It
was definitely weird to realize that we probably would never do the show again,
or so we thought. Little did we know that this show would go on to catch the
attention of more than just the families in Central Florida.
As we developed the Thomas show, we
wanted to make sure we made it interactive, especially with it being a library
program. We wrote some lines into the show just for this purpose. We also had
an activity afterwards that involved the families working together to make
birthday cards for Thomas. They were able to color the front and write the
message of their choice inside right to Thomas. There was just one major issue
we had at the end of the run: we had no idea what we were going to do with all
of these cards. There were around 200 cards that were made for Thomas and we
did not know what to do with all of them.
Around the time we were having this
dilemma, a video appeared on YouTube of an award ceremony in which TV series
creator Britt Allcroft received a very prestigious award. Once our entire cast
sat and watched her emotional and moving speech, there was no doubt that we
needed to send these cards to Ms. Allcroft.
We packaged the cards together
with a letter and
some pictures from the show and mailed them to her. We figured if she
responded, that would be great. If not, we still would have continued to press
forward with all of our other productions.
A few weeks had passed and
we were already well
into full swing on our 2016 season. At this point, we were at our recording
studio working on audio for an upcoming music video. I was checking Facebook
and my email for any event updates and came across a notification from a fellow
Thomas fan saying that he tagged me in a comment. At this point, I really had
not had too many conversations with Brenden, so I really was not sure why I was
getting tagged in a comment. When I opened the page, I saw this:
I fell onto
the ground. Literally. And I could not get up. Slowly, the rest of the members
came out of the studio and discovered me melting onto the floor. In less than a
year, we had not only made someone recognize the work we do, but also
completely appreciate everything we were doing.
After about a
week of collecting my thoughts, I contacted Britt to discuss the show with her
a bit. One thing lead to another, and Britt had the idea of us doing the show
again so she could come out and see it, not only for us as performers but for
the reactions of all of the children and families as well. I calmly walked inside
Starbucks and told my Vice President (who was also in the show), “I regret to
inform you that your days of being in a Thomas production are far from over,
because Britt Allcroft wishes to fly over and see our show in person.” Needless
to say, the entire cast was thrilled as well. As a Writer and Director, this
also provided me with the opportunity to do a complete rework of the show and
to see what I could do to improve upon the material I already had.
As the months past and the date came
closer, I made sure our show was a well oiled machine. We were able to add in
songs all the way up to The Great Race,
which had come out as we were in rehearsal for the show. This allowed our
production to incorporate the classic songs as well as being up-to-date with
the latest material. Everyone in the cast was confident in the show we had. The
only thing we were unsure of was how Britt was going to react to it.
The day before the show was a long and
busy one. All of the music cues were finalized, the choreography was the
strongest I had seen for our group, and props and costumes finally came
together to make a cohesive picture. The final rehearsal made me increasingly
nervous. Would everyone be pleased with the work we have done? As rehearsal
ended, the time came to pick up Britt from the airport.
After Katie and I picked her up, I had
no idea what to say. Suddenly all 800 questions I had about her career- Thomas, Shining
Time Station, Mumfie, Thomas
and the Magic Railroad, everything- just vanished. The ride to the hotel
was quite pleasant. Britt ended up being one of the nicest and most
professional people I have ever met. There is so much care and compassion for
everything she works on and, like many creators, treats her characters as if
they were her own children. I tremendously respect this trait in anyone.
The next morning, we were up bright and
early. Katie and I picked Britt up from her hotel and headed to Starbucks where
we met up with the remainder of the cast and then proceeded to the Orlando
Public Library. The stage where we performed was open in the middle of the
library, so there really wasn’t a way to get people to not watch us, which was
good and bad. As we ran through our tech/dress run, we started to gather an
audience. Instead of kicking them out, we just let them stay. We hit a certain
point in the show where I told them thank you for watching and the actual show
will be at 3pm. Every single one of them came back at 3pm for the show, and
said they appreciated that they were able to see the whole thing twice.
Once we hit show time, we
had a full audience.
Family, Thomas enthusiasts, people I knew from work, and complete strangers
came from all over the state (some even
from out of state) to see the event. I think a lot of people expected the
entire event to be focused on Britt,
with a side of us singing. Due to this, we were not sure how some people would
react. On top of already being nervous performing these iconic songs and
stories in front of the creator, there were some of my Disney managers there as
well that had never seen an ARO show. In the end, everything really worked out.
It was funny to see everyone start singing along, particularly my mother when
she recognized one of the songs. We added Gone
Fishing into this version of the show and she sang the entire thing (quietly)
from her seat.
About halfway through
the show, Britt took a seat
near the side of the stage. Before her arrival to Florida, we made a mutual
decision to add her into the end of the show. The lines I originally said to
induct Riley into the Sodor Railway Society were then handed over to Britt,
which seemed more appropriate. When Britt stepped onto the stage, the entire
library erupted in cheer and applause, exactly what we as the cast wanted.
Needless to say, the entire show was a
huge success. After our bows, we had a short video that we presented made by
Rico Robbins, a fellow Thomas fan. Britt asked us to play his video supporting
the Restore the Magic campaign to spread the word about the original edit of Thomas
and the Magic Railroad and the
DVD release of Shining Time Station.
A lot of the Thomas fans cheered during the video, but there was a LOT of
reminiscing moments for those that remember the shows from so long ago. There
was definitely an interest in seeing both items released.
Britt did a short Q&A following the
video. The questions we started with were some of the ones that we answered in
our “Meet the Cast” videos that premiered the week before. Some of the
questions asked included:
Who was your favorite
“I feel incredibly blessed to have worked with all
Do you have a favorite engine? “I have to be honest.
I think it’s Percy. I think
he is very cheeky too and he’s green and I love green.”
is your favorite story? “Down the
Mine is one because that is the story that we first filmed… but I am also
fond of All At Sea… I wrote it as an
original story, but I wanted to Duck to have his own story.”
is your favorite song? “I think the theme.”
Probably the most emotional
was when one our guests
asked: “What has Thomas truly meant to
you in your life? What has he done that has made all of this so memorable, so
amazing? Not just for us, but for you?” Britt took a moment and replied
very sincerely: “You. Really, it’s you
guys. Every time. The money that I made was nice, but this is what it’s really
about.” Touching the hearts of all that were there, it was clear to
everyone (if it wasn’t already) that
Britt shared as much passion and love for the characters and stories as we the
We usually offer to
take pictures with the children
after, but this time we had a queue for pictures with us which was incredible.
Everyone wanted to talk with us about our future projects, how we put the show
together, and if we would be doing any other Thomas projects. It was nice to
know that we as an organization were accepted by everyone in the audience that
Everything from this day still has not
processed in my brain. I have basically fulfilled every fan’s ultimate dream,
in which a piece of fan fiction was produced and presented in front of a live
audience and the creator actually made an appearance in the show. It sounds
completely falsified and irrational, but it truly happened. Every outcome was
the best case scenario and I could not have been more pleased with the cast,
the script, and being able to work side by side with Britt Allcroft.
Eric Scherer is currently working on
producing numerous events and productions for Actors Reaching Out. By the end
of next year, just under 3 years of being an official nonprofit, the
organization will have produced 100 events and performances benefiting the
Central Florida community. His hopes are to continue growing the organization
and ultimately become a nationally recognized nonprofit. For more information
about Actors Reaching Out and updates on future events and productions, please