Category Archives: Out of Time

What do we really know after all?

Charley has just begun to plot her next adventure, a journey forward from Leonardo’s time to a period where the world was unevenly wakening to what it means to be fully alive, fully human. In the early to mid-17s, most of humanity (at least in the Western world) was still firmly in the grips of the Inquisition, superstition. This was pre-Revolutionary America or France, where the Rights of Man (but not Woman) had yet to be enunciated.

But hope and change were in the air.  The thrill of examining another moment in time where brilliance and genius could bubble up, where scientific thought,  and debate were leading us to new innovations that would help define our own post-modern world, is about to draw our girl Charley back into adventure like a moth drawn into flame.

As we start to look at the time of Voltaire, Diderot and the kings of Divine Right in France, there is another pioneer and “brainiac” of the period whose flame has been dimmed by history because–gasp–she is a woman. If Charley has any say about it, la Marquise Emilie du Chatelet is about to get her due.

Meanwhile, a look at the satirical brilliance of Voltaire, Emilie’s consort and intellectual partner, from a modern musical theater performance adapted from his novel, Candide, ou l’Optimist, from a 2011 blog post on my Pass the Talking Stick blog.

What do we really know, after all?

I went to see Candide last night – a musical opera based on Voltaire’s famous satirical novel (“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”) set to Leonard Bernstein’s music. It was a fabulous production by The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Bernstein decided to undertake the adaptation in 1953 upon the advice of his friend, playwright Lillian Hellman. At the time, Hellman was one of many artists, scientists and intellectuals under investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities, the noted McCarthy hearings against alleged Communists. Hellman was one of many artist victims of this modern day witch hunt. Voltaire’s 1758 satire of the institutions that held enormous sway over public opinion in his time – from the Catholic Church to the emperors, from physicians to philosophers – were intent on trying to impose their dogma, and control on the public. Even when the facts didn’t line up with teachings – the inconvenience of the Inquisition being a notable breach of Christian spirit, for example – it was all for the best!In a contemporary parallel, some politicians of our day insist that our country’s Founders had God and right on their side in the original framing of the U.S. Constitution — and that they are the special people who can read he Founders intentions correctly and prune our laws of anything that the framers and their successors didn’t really intend, except those parts that don’t suit their current ideology. No hypocrisy there!

As the French themselves are fond of saying, Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.
What struck me about the “philosophy” behind Voltaire’s mocking words was how the best knowledge of his day had much of the science wrong. The best medicine then promoted bleeding (leeches) to cure disease, the auto-da-fe to “purify” religion, and Optimism as a philosophical explanation for every Job-like tragedy that befell the world and poor Candide, including earthquake, war, plague. What do we “know” today that will lead the scientists and philosophers 300 years from now to conclude that our best practices are equally misinformed?

It would seem that skepticism – questioning what is generally accepted as fact – is actually a healthy approach to counter the conventional wisdom. Candide’s teacher, Professor Pangloss, tenaciously holds to his optimistic philosophy (“All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds”) despite suffering these personal trials and tribulations: war, poverty, beatings, earthquakes, Auto-da-fe (the Inquisition’s infamous public heretics “trials” which inevitably ended up in conviction and public execution), hanging and, finally, destitution. Equally, today, we might be skeptical of the absolutists who claim to “know” what is best for our country, for our children and for our future.

Fortunately, technology, communication, transportation and a healthy public debate in our democracy promote ever greater tools to engage in public skepticism. Through the Internet, television, social media, ever-more transparent government and the free press, Americans now have more power than ever to question, debate, learn and challenge the status quo.

Still, it is tempting to stay out of the debate and “cultivate one’s garden”, as Candide concludes at the bitter end of his story. By this time, Candide’s one true love, the Lady Cunegonde, has lost her station, her beauty, her youth and her wealth. To engage in the conversation – to challenge conventional wisdom publicly – may leave one subject to ridicule or worse. But, as in Voltaire’s time, satire can be a biting tool that, on the face of it, seems to endorse the authorities whose knowledge is “beyond question” while mocking their hypocrisy.

A musical highlight of Candide is the lovely Cunegonde’s famous comic soliloquy, “Glitter and Be Gay”, lamenting that a lady of high nobility stripped of her title, wealth and family should become the sexual object for everyone from Catholic Cardinals, to the City of Lisbon’s wealthiest and most influential men in exchange for baubles and expensive clothes. True to the teachings of Professor Pangloss even in the most horrific circumstances, Cunegonde searches for the best in the situation.

 The aria is here performed by the incomparably gifted actress Kristen Chenoweth. Her high E-flat is a Wicked feat!

Out of Time to be showcased on TV talk show “Think About It”

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Taping for “Think About It” to air Dec. 9 at 10 pm, Ch. 16 Montgomery Cable TV and online http://mmctv.org/video.html

Had a blast doing a half-hour interview with Sylvia Henderson, host of “Talk About It’, a biweekly community affairs program on MMCTV, here in Montgomery County, Maryland. We talked about the STEM to STEAM to MASTERY link that is becoming fundamental to student learning in K-12 education. MASTERY, here, includes learning across multiple disciplines, but with purpose: math, arts, science, technology, engineering, reflection (think social and emotional learning!)–for me, this happens through the “yarns of storytelling.”

In the interview, Sylvia asked me how to make that accessible to young people who might not otherwise be drawn to science, technology, engineering or math–the four pillars of STEM learning. The theory behind “Out of Time” in its many incarnations–novel, screenplay, Tweet storytelling adventure and flipped learning platform–is that young people can explore through whatever their own personal passions are and be drawn into the world of the Renaissance learner to explore further.Davinci_formula

In an “Aha!” moment, Sylvia revealed that, while she is not necessarily a “math person” (not sure there is such a thing, by the way!), she loves building dollhouses–scale models of life-sized homes. To create them, she uses architectural design principles based on mathematics: fractions, geometry, perspective and more.

Artists, musicians and craftspeople all employ STEM skills in their play–thus STEM becomes STEAM as arts integrates nicely into the equation.

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Sylvia is now an experienced time traveler. Shown here wearing Out of Time cap.

What’s your passion? Share with us in comments below how you get from STEM to STEAM to MASTERY and beyond.

And watch “Out of Time” interview here, or on Channel 16 on Montgomery Cable TV on Monday, December 8 at 10 p.m.: http://mmctv.org/video.html – scroll down to “Talk About It” and click on the link with my name, Robin Stevens Payes.

Is Reading the Goal, or a Means to an End?

How can story get their attention?

How to hold their attention?

As the creator of Out of Time, I work across media. My novel is in its second draft now, drawn from the original screenplay. I started tweeting the story–line-by-line as is the most conventional practice in #TwitterFiction–until our heroine, Charley, took over the narrative. Her solution to tweet storytelling was to ask questions of the experts, to invite others to help advance the story, and to ask a lot of questions. In fact, it is her curiosity is one of her most  ingratiating character traits.

As a transmedia storyteller, I recognize that reading is not every teen’s cup-of-tea. Interestingly, there is a hot debate going on about this right now. it seems that boys are reading less-and-less. There is some argument to be made over what stories boys are most likely attracted to, and how those different from girls’ interests. Some would say that boys a more likely to engage in action-oriented narrative nonfiction, while girls are attracted to stories about relationships–whether in fiction or nonfiction. And if more YA fiction features female protagonists, does that automatically deter close to 50 percent of the teen universe from reading?

In my world Out of Time, I encounter a paradoxical problem: girls are far less likely than boys to pursue the studies in science, math, engineering and technology–the so-called STEM fields–that will prepare and qualify them for the best, highest paying and most in-demand careers. Whether the STEM application is for engineering bridges in repairing our infrastructure or building apps that run the next Uber, or design the first successful SpaceX rockets, girls are less likely to pursue studies that will launch them into career orbit.

Naturally, my protagonist Charley is a girl. Her interest in building Leonardo’s time machine–and acquiring the skills and knowledge to make it happen–is, apparently, a rarity in girls but, through the story, perhaps she will inspire the next generation of girls to pursue their own passions to create, discover, design, build and make work…in whatever their passion might be.

So I hope to test if story, and a smart, sassy girl as a role model, can’t inspire some girls to follow Charley’s lead. BUT, since this is a story, I am also hoping that boys will be interested enough to read and follow her adventures–in whatever medium most engages their interest.

If this passion is ignited through reading a novel, so be it. If film is the more engaging medium, I say, let’s go for it. For today’s young people, if you’re not on social media, you practically don’t exist. Video games? Plans for a video game and an app are in the cards. Underlying the whole narrative is a personalized learning platform, where young people can engage, through the story, in following their own interests to learn more across disciplines.

If Leonardo da Vinci could dream it, kids engaging with learning on Out of Time Media can pursue it.

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Snapshots of Life, FASEB Exhibit, National Institutes of Health; Credit: Bo Wang, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

For an artist, this transdisciplinary learning might mean combining art and anatomy. A kid inspired to be a doctor could, likewise, come to appreciate art through the study of biology. For a musician, hearing the music of the cosmos. When it comes to a politics buff…well, one could glean a lot about present-day governing and politics from Machiavelli or Lorenzo di Medici.

Did you know they burned books in Leonardo’s day? The original bonfires of the vanities were supposed to “purge” society of the evils of worshiping material possessions. They were really intended to keep people ignorant of wide advances in art, culture and science. While the printed page was still a newfangled invention in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (and railed against as leading to the downfall of civilization!), knowledge and human advancement could not be stopped. The world could not go back into darkness. Similarly, today’s plethora of new media can be expected to lead to a Renaissance of learning to open new worlds of discovery that we can only imagine.

Whether boys–and girls–read from books would seem to be besides the point. They will–we will–always engage with stories, in any medium, because they allow us to connect to each other, to explore new worlds, and to reach for the stars.

 

Finding cliche and going beyond, or The Art of Writing for Tweens

Listen-Shel Silverstein

“Listen to the Mustn’ts by Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends (credit: A Mighty Girl)

Excited that my intrepid new story editor Mari Lou is an expert on Middle Grades (MG) fiction. That, for the uninitiated (and me, among them!) is how publishers categorize novels geared towards 8-12 year olds, in particular. Notable classics in this genre: A Wrinkle in Time, Matilda, and The Giver, which was recently released as a feature film. Some would also place Harry Potter in this category–at least for the early books in the series.

Quite a category, and one where my own kids–and I, quite frankly–have spent many happy hours fully absorbed in story.

Where to place Out of Time in the pantheon of publishing for children has been an active matter of debate for months now, since before competing in the When Words Count Retreat Pitch Week competition. Originally, I felt the story was for teens and solidly within the Young Adults (YA) category. This matters vastly for publishers, parents and readers for widely varying reasons–from what section of a bookstore (real or virtual) displays the book, to whether parents find it appropriate reading for their kids (especially at younger ages where parents pick out and pay for the books), to how readers identify with the protagonist.

Because Out of Time is told across genres–book, screenplay, social media and, notably, Web site–the picture is far from clear. As one very obvious example, kids under 13 cannot have Twitter accounts or Facebook pages of their own, and these are places where I hope to spur social storytelling adventures. Is there a workaround in the realm of gated social media gardens that mimic Facebook without subjecting younger children to what can feel like the wild, wild West of Instagram and its like?

Of course, God-and-the-market willing, Out of Time can grow into a series. Now that Charley has unlocked the secrets of time travel, there is nothing to keep her from fulfilling her wish: to meet the “superheroes of history,” as she calls them. Like many such series, there is the potential for readers and fans to grow up with the book’s heroes, much like kids who mature alongside Harry, Ron, Hermoine and friends.

What’s Cliche about Kid-Lit?

Cliche is, perhaps, the wrong word here. It is more like defining the set of circumstances that launches a character on the journey that will lead her to her destiny. What Joseph Campbell calls “The Mythic Journey.” Think of Harry’s magic-wielding adventures in vanquishing the monsters that arise along the path of growing up. Or the obstacles Katniss must face to protect her sister, her friends, and her District from the machinations of The Capitol.

For Charley, I have identified these two qualities that force her out of the relative safety of her conventional upbringing and out of time and into the dangerous unknown:

  1.  Listen to your heart.
  2. Believe anything is possible.

As I work on redrafting this story, these are themes to revisit over-and-over. Interesting to strip down the story again to its skeleton and rebuild on a stronger foundation.

Ultimately, Charley must find a world where she is free to be herself, and supported in her quests.

And after all, isn’t that a dream we should vision into being for all children, everywhere, and throughout time?

Calling all readers to ponder. Do you have a favorite story of childhood where you could see your own hopes and dreams take wing? What were these, and what impact did they have on you?

Eager to read your stories in comments below.

 

 

The Out of Time Media Web site can

Leo

OOT_music_icon[1]In the time travel adventure story Out of Time, our heroine Charley plays violin–taught and encouraged by her professional violinist mom, Gwen. Charley and Gwen even compose what Charley calls a “sound poem” together–the song “Out of Time” that ends up connecting mother and daughter across centuries.  Practicing the violin is not Charley’s favorite thing to do: Gwen has to nag alot. What Charley really wants to concentrate on building Leonardo da Vinci’s plans for a time machine to win the school science fair.

But the music proves key to time travel–an energy that knows no bounds–in ways neither mother nor daughter would ever have guessed. The song gives the story an energy all its own. But Out of Time needed a real melody, not just ClonesofClones-31the tune in my imagination! I had long begged my musician son Ben (a rocker and lead singer for Clones of Clones) to compose the theme song. Now, after much doing, Ben’s obliged, with “Leo, ” a sweet ballad that gives air to Charley’s longing to find her own time and place, no matter what her parents or anyone else thinks is right for her.

Give a listen! Let us know in comments what you think.

Pitch Week Coda: Finding Inspiration for Rebirth

LiveFuller_webRI am in rustic Rochester, Vermont, a contestant in Pitch Week II. I am deep in the throes of this midsummer nights competition–in the running for the publishing trifecta of a book deal, agent and publicist.

As part of the contest, I am presenting my vision for a rebirth of learning based on the resonance of my story Out of Time–a plan for every child to achieve his fullest potential. A renewal in modern society of transdicisplinary learning has the potential to spawn the same impulse towards innovation, illumination and flowering of genius that characterized the Renaissance: Live Fuller.

The gist: a revival of Renaissance/Humanist learning and discovery based on modern science of how children learn, grow and thrive offers a chance for every child to discover, nurture and be supported in finding her own source of genius.

I contend that stories have the power to evoke such potential for self-discovery and inspire children to find and explore their unique talents and potential to contribute to the world. And Out of Time, in all its forms–novel, screenplay, interactive storytelling, and digital learning tool–can be the portal.

During the course of the week-long publishing competition, I have the great good fortune of staying in the Ralph Ellison room at the When Words Count Retreat. Of course, Ellison work was influential during the Harlem Renaissance—a 20th century flowering of thoughts and ideas for a particular community long oppressed. Not a coincidence, as far as I’m concerned.

As I scan the works of the author of The Invisible Man, I read the back book jacket of his collected stories, Flying Home.

I find his words evocative:

“Back in the thirties, when I was a music student in the South, I was moved to great agonies of empathy by three novels. One of these was Wuthering Heights, another was Jude the Obscure and the other was Crime and Punishment. While I was reading these works I felt such a compelling identification with their respective heroes that I literally suffered through their every trial and exalted in their every triumph. . . . I missed none of the bolder actions and there are still memory traces of them in my throat which were put there by the poignant and tragic developments of these fictions. . . . And the fact that they could so take me out of myself and transport me to a more intense world of feeling and acting, yes, and thinking, intrigued me more than I realized at the time.”

At its best, reading—and fiction in particular—has this magical power to move us to “great agonies of empathy.” And what better to teach our children—in our world of widening divisions and fissions on a global scale—than the pleasurable agony of knowing we all share the same dreams and fears, the same flesh and blood, and the same capacity to draw together through our shared experiences?

Can story create resonance that allows children to jump into learning and find that same source of inspiration? Once that seed is planted, can we, as a society, water it, nurture it into full flower, and then let it grow?

It is to this idea that I dedicate Out of Time: that we all embrace the goal to “live fuller”, to wake up to a world in dire need of revival. More than any time in recent memory, today’s complex and interconnected world requires a Renaissance of ideas, inspiration, creativity and problem solving.

And it is the coming generations that will be charged with undertaking that renewal–or witness our demise.

Now is the moment to plant the seeds of empathy, watch them take root, and strengthen our capacity to draw together in mutual understanding and compassion for ourselves and others with all our strengths and foibles.

Can a story Out of Time spark a movement?

Out of Time Competes for Publishing Trifecta

cropped-subpage_mast.jpgWhen Words Count Retreat Pitch Week II Competition, June 16-21

Robin Stevens Payes, author and creator of transmedia time travel storytelling novel, Out of Time, is among six finalists competing in the coming Pitch Week competition sponsored by When Words Count Retreat, June 16-21.

Out of Time tells the story of Charley, a thirteen-year-old science smart girl whose ambition is to meet Leonardo da Vinci, her Renaissance idol. But first, she must unravel the physics of time travel and build a transport to withstand the pressures of time. She builds what she thinks are Leonardo’s plans for a time machine and finds herself rocked by a world not her own. Her problems: being pursued for witchcraft and heresy and getting back in time to win the Da Vinci Middle School Science Fair.

Help Charley hack time travel!

Follow, Like and engage with Charley and her friends on social media. You can advance the interactive story and get involved in the adventure—and help build an audience that will bring Charley’s adventures to life.

Beyond the novel, help us build excitement for the interactive story through social media:

·       Follow @OutofTimeMovie on Twitter (https://twitter.com/OutofTimeMovie)

·       Like Out of Time Media on Facebook (www.facebook.com/outoftimemedia)

·       Check the Out of Time Media Web site (www.outoftimemedia.com)

As a writer and parent, author Robin Stevens Payes created the story after years of driving carpools and listening in on the conversations of her three children and their friends as they discussed their dreams, their worries, and the latest iteration of who did what to whom. This is the realization of that listening tour in story: a universal spin on growing up where time is still relative and dreams can turn into reality.

If you know a thirteen year old—or have ever been one—this story is your story! So engage Out of Time, and learn along with Charley and friends.

Remember: you make the future possible!

 

Off to the Past

For those of you who have been brave enough to watch videos Out of Time, thank you. I realize it’s been some time since we first chatted about this young adult time travel adventure, and perhaps you have been wondering what Charley and her friends have been doing since that autumn introduction.

Or maybe not.

But if you’ve tuned in at all, you may have noticed that our modern-day Renaissance genius is a very ambitious teenager. Where some teens dream of becoming tech-geek gazillionaires before the age of 25 (back in the day, when I was growing up, we used to think 40 and a cool million was aggressive!), Charley’s goal is to learn a good chunk of something about, well, everything, by the time she applies to college.

Davinci_formulaBecoming a Renaissance genius back in Leonardo da Vinci’s day would seem to have been a lot simpler. It’s simply a matter of degree.

Anyway, though I’d catch you up on what’s been going on.

LegolandIntroducing Charley: self-proclaimed teen genius. Finds Leonardo’s plans for a time machine in one of his notebooks and decides to build it for the school science fair with her smartest-geek-in-the-class pal Billy Vincenzo. Teacher says, sure, why not. BFF Beth Jacobs says, ha-ha-ha, Charley. You do too much. Besides, I’ve got my heart set on being a normal, fashionista teen with a huge crush on school hot-jock Lex Campbell. So go build your stupid time machine.

Build up: Charley convinces Billy the time machine is doable. Billy knows the science: Higgs-Boson may make faster-than-light travel possible in the quantum field, but in the physical world…fugheddaboutit.

But Charley goes to Take Your Child to Work Day at her dad’s Homeland Security-agency contracting company and learns that, amid the spook agencies of government, there’s something quantum afoot in the physical world. Logging on to Dad’s Top Secret-secured computer while he’s in a meeting, she gets the download for a mysterious formula that seems to tap into a reality-as-hologram science with the Qualia Rosetta. Part of mysterious Operation Firenze.

The messenger is the equally mysterious Kairos, a teen just a bit older than Charley who gives her two keys to time travel, the formula that unravels the Qualia Rosetta with coordinates set to 1492 Florence, and a mini-sculpture—the model for Leonardo’s Man-and-Horse. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth (LOL), Charley takes the key and runs with it!

Billy’s done more research, now he meets with Charley in her garage to assemble Leo’s version of the time machine. Still skeptical, even after Charley shows him the evidence, Billy knows their science grade—and winning the Da Vinci Middle School Science Fair depends on creating a model that would work if it could.

Meanwhile, aforementioned Lex, clueless to Beth’s crush on him, decides Charley’s time machine is key to his finding out when he’ll be drafted into the Major Leagues…and by what team. He’s holding out for the Nats, when he’ll beat out Bryce Harper for youngest player to join the pros.

Billy goes home and Lex corners Charley thinking she can send him into the future. An awkward embrace and an accidental triggering of the time machine and—poof! Fire, smoke, an inside tornado breaks out. Coughing and teary-eyed, Lex lets the smoke settle before he gets brave enough to set out and warn the kids: Charley’s disappeared!

And the rest is history! Charley whirls through the eye of time into a wild and weird alternate universe, or so she hypothesizes, until she crashes into a rocky outcropping on a field in the black of midnight amid a hail of cannon fire. The first-person shooter: none other than Leonardo da Vinci himself.

When the smoke clears, Charley is astonished to find herself in a close encounter with her Renaissance idol, and a badly banged up foot.

Charley’s been busy getting herself into some interesting new adventures with Bethy II and now involving a pig named—of course—Wilbur, and Billy’s beginning to get into the act. And Gwen may be ill!

No spoiler here… Not wanting to give up the ghost but there is a specter that hangs overCharley in this time and her own.

Pen and ink

Working now on what’s next: suffice it to say that there are Machiavellian manipulations that have Charley worried about her mother and keep her own future—and that of history—in doubt.

Keep your compass turned in this direction for more adventures through time and all around the globe. And join in tweet storytelling @OutofTimeMovie!

#TwitterFiction 2014: the Festival

The Twitter Fiction Festival has begun. Charley is tweeting daily, although not with much enthusiasm for the form. I am following the hashtag #TwitterFiction on TweetDeck, but #TwFictionFestivalhonestly, for all its vaunted potential, I find the content disappointing. Although Twitter, Andrew Fitzgerald (@MagicAndrew) and other organizers have held out for pushing the envelope on its uses, including making the most of the social aspect of the medium, the majority of authors seem to be marking the celebration by simply tweeting out their novels/screenplays/short stories line-by-line. What could be less fascinating than dribbling out a 10,000 word tome 140 characters at a time?

For @OutofTimeMedia, the challenge has been to attract a sizable enough regular following to encourage regular conversations between my characters and an appropriate audience. Since Out of Time is time travel fiction aimed at young adults, that means attracting the eyeballs of teens–who don’t regularly pay attention to anything they don’t have to…unless it’s something they personally feel passionate about. To legions of Harry Potter fans, if J.K. Rowling started tweeting as Harry, she’d undoubtedly start a Twitter landslide. If Katniss Everdeen jumped in online, fans would go ga-ga.

But pre-publication, this is a tougher sell. I am mid-creation, somewhere between half- and two-thirds through writing the novel. That means my story, despite its unveiling on multiple platforms (an example of an emerging trend in #transmedia storytelling, with an emphasis currently on kid-vid as an anchor), still lingers in the pre-naissance twilight. But more on this trend to come.

Charley and I soldier on nonetheless, and are slowly, but surely, attracting eyeballs and activity to the open-ended tweet-story–where you direct the action and the outcome. Check out a recent slice of the convo.

@braddo @OutofTimeMovie convoWhat’ll it take before the story gains online traction? First priority: publication. Get the actual story out there. Second up: take it to school. High hopes that bringing the opportunity into classrooms, around discussion of how stories are universal…how creating a story leads to strengthening writing skills through research, planning and organization (good old pre-frontal cortex action!)…how they build empathy and compassion in readers who come to care about the characters and identify with their journey…how, for teens in particular, building identity is Job #1…and, in particular, providing strong female role models around STEM learning and careers…all these benefits may accrue from participating in an online tweet storytelling adventure.

But more about all the benefits of learning through story to come.

Meanwhile, tweet some fiction with Charley M & Friends at www.outoftimemedia.com. Are you up for the journey? Pack your bags…we’re taking a ride back in time. Where will Charley and her friends go? Who, among the superheroes of history might they meet? What will they see, hear, smell, taste or touch? What do you want to learn?

The adventure is in your hands @OutofTimeMovie.Tweet on!