Schrag, who works as an editor and product manager for the health education company ETR, initially dreamed up River Quest for a First Night Santa Cruz event. “I basically came up with it because I wanted to get to wear a costume and run around the streets all day,” she admits.
At a home base known as The Watershed, the game’s participants—most of them kids—encountered a quirky couple named Eb and Flo (played by local life and business coach Todd Phillips and Schrag, respectively). Each player received a card with a poem explaining his or her mission: to find various costumed characters wandering around the festival. Included among these were The Frog, Drought and The Spirit of Water. “The idea was to have characters that were sort of educational about the river and the water cycle,” Schrag explains.
Once found, each of the characters would hand the contestant a token. Blue Heron gave out feathers, while a wandering knight named Steelhead handed out Swedish Fish candy. Another character bearing a Magic Wordbook (essentially a decorated dictionary) gave each contestant a word to remember. After they had found all the characters, contestants brought the complete collection of tokens back to the main tent to claim a “River Quest Champion” sticker as a prize.
At least 200 kids finished the quest. “We had this one little girl who just could not find The Frog!” Schrag recalls. “She didn’t want to take a sticker until she found them all—she was determined.”
Schrag, a former Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County board member, has done extensive local theater work in the areas of acting and costume design. Over the course of seven years, she made extensive use of both of these skills in Friends of Gus, a theater company that she cofounded. She also recently served as costumer for the Mountain Community Theater show The Last Noel.
“As a costumer, the thing I really like is getting thrift store clothing and objects and incorporating them—not so much getting the fabric, building the pattern, cutting it out and building it from scratch, but kind of like a fabric assemblage,” she notes.
Suzanne Schrag’s River Quest Characters
Schrag enjoyed seeing River Quest’s characters come to life when the actors donned the costumes she created for the event. The man who played The Frog made a particularly dramatic transformation. “He was so wonderful!” she exclaims. “He’s a really calm, reserved guy, and he put on that Frog [outfit], and suddenly he was gone! It was just The Frog.”
Todd Phillips, who performs with Schrag in the improv troupe Um…Gee…Um…, also enjoyed getting into character as Eb. Helping him in that regard was the fact that one of his front teeth had been knocked out during a volleyball game approximately 18 years ago. “His friend stuck it back in, and it lasted quite a while, but it finally got to a point where he was going to have to have it replaced,” Schrag notes. When he removed a bridge that he usually kept in place to fill the gap, Phillips instantly became a different person. “He didn’t have to do anything else to be that character—he just took out his tooth, and he was like, ‘Hey thar! I’m Eb!’” Schrag says with a laugh.
This kind of playfulness helped make River Quest enjoyable for participants. “It’s nice because it’s ongoing throughout the festival, so the idea is that they can be playing the game while they’re walking around, looking at the booths and seeing other things,” Schrag offers. “And the characters added a lot of color and fun to the whole festive scene.”