Torbee’s Refreshing Approach to Children’s Television Programming

By: Emily Mook  |  PHotos by: Ashlee Glen

When Tori Garris sat down to watch a children’s show with her then two-year-old son in 2020, she had no idea that inspiration would strike—and that this inspiration would lead her to not only create her own children’s show, but also lead her on a journey back to herself. At that time, Garris had a corporate job and was working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but for much of her life up to that point, she had passionately pursued and made a name for herself through acting. She had thought that her acting days were behind her, but she suddenly found herself pulled back into that sphere with a new sense of purpose and direction.

“My son and I were watching a children’s show together,” Garris recalls. “It was kind of educational—more entertaining—and looking at it through my professional acting lens, it occurred to me that I could do something like this and it could be much less annoying! That was where the idea started.”

Garris’s acting journey began when she was very young.

“I’ve been acting as long as I can remember,” she says. “When I was in first grade, my music teacher said to my parents, ‘You have got to get that girl into acting. She has no stage fright, and it is so hard to come across someone with no stage fright!’”

Garris’s first public performance as a child was in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at a theater in Chicago, her hometown. She booked her first professional gig when she was 15 and consistently acted professionally from age 19 on.

After taking acting intensives in both Chicago and New York City over the subsequent years, Garris began to weigh the pros and cons of moving to either New York City or Los Angeles to pursue acting even more rigorously. Amidst her pondering, however, a different and more pressing thread of thought emerged.

“The more I thought about it [moving], the more I realized that I kept saying I was pursuing my acting career because that’s what the Lord had called me to do—because it’s what I was supposed to do—but I kept getting offered roles that went against my morals,” she remarks. “They were roles that I would not have been proud to play. If I kept saying I was doing this for the Lord, then why on Earth did I keep getting offered these roles? It was like God said to my spirit, ‘Because you say you’re doing this for me, but you’re actually doing this for you.’ So I literally stopped and said, ‘I don’t know how to do this any other way, so I’m just going to go and do something else.’”

Garris and her husband, Zac, ultimately moved to Central Virginia to be closer to family and friends and had a son, and Garris embarked on a corporate career.

Fast forward, then, to that fateful day when Garris saw a new path emerge in front of her—a path that would allow her to both rediscover her passion for acting and tap into her passion for being a mother. 

“I found that I still had that itch to be an actress,” she notes. “It’s what lights my soul on fire!”

That spark of inspiration ignited quickly into a plan, and thus was Torbee born. It didn’t take Garris long to form a vision and mobilize a team to bring that vision to life. In addition to her acting chops, Garris had some light editing experience and friends with a variety of creative talents who were willing to help.

Central to Torbee’s creation and continued success are two of Garris’s friends in particular: husband and wife Zach and Bryanna Boyd, who serve as the show’s director of photography and executive producer, respectively. Garris shot episodes of Torbee on her iPhone starting in 2021 before taking a break after the birth of her daughter, and when she began working with the Boyds at the beginning of 2023, a whole new world of possibilities emerged.

Garris remarks that the Boyds “immediately understood my vision, bought into the vision, and helped me refine what we were looking to build.”

The Torbee team also includes a graphic designer, songwriter, marketing specialist, and several musicians, colorists, and editors. The team frequently films episodes at Atelier Studio & Gathering Space and outdoors at HumanKind.

Garris’s vision for Torbee is centered around helping families “slow things down in a fast-paced world” and place “wonder at the center of everything.” She cites Mr. Rogers as a “huge source of inspiration because he was known for talking about how children need wonder.”

“In today’s society, we’re so obsessed with information, and we continually put wonder to the side—especially for kids,” she adds.

Garris hopes that Torbee can facilitate wonder by serving as a bridge between screen time and either play time or thoughtful discussion. As such, Torbee covers myriad topics that encourage off-screen engagement, and the videos are conveniently color-coded to indicate which topics are being covered: purple for imagination and creativity; blue for math concepts like numbers, counting, and shapes; green for nature and exploring; yellow for language and story time; and red for emotions and safety.

As a busy mom herself, Garris prioritizes sharing simple activities that use common household materials and showing the process from start to finish.

“I’ll often go to Instagram for inspiration and ideas for simple crafts to do with my kids, but usually life gets so busy that I’ll like and save all these videos and reels and will then never go back to them,” she says. “With Torbee, we want to show the whole process: an idea that we are actively putting into practice. We also just want to create so much content that parents can choose an activity that they already have the materials for.”

In addition to an upcoming series focused on puppet-making and puppetry, major projects with two partner organizations are in the works.

The Torbee team will be working with CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) of Central Virginia on an episode entitled “Things To Know By Heart,” which will focus on helping parents and caregivers equip their children with knowledge they need to know in case of an emergency—namely first and last names of parents/caregivers, phone number, and address—and on helping children understand what makes an adult a “safe grownup.” A free downloadable and printable PDF resource will accompany the episode.

“CASA is a voice for the most vulnerable children,” states Garris. “We are not experts
on trauma, so we want to be able to lean on and promote and recommend organizations like CASA.”

The Torbee team will also be working with Freedom 4/24, an organization that aims to end exploitation of children and human trafficking, to produce episodes centering around personal safety and boundaries for six- to eight-year-olds.

“We want to empower kids to be able to say things like ‘My body is my own,’ ‘I don’t want you to hug or touch me,’ and ‘No is a complete sentence,’” she says. “We’re not ready to produce those episodes yet, but we’re going to be working with Freedom 4/24 and a couple of licensed therapists to create content that is age-appropriate and is focused on being empowering. That’s a really important mission for us.”

When it comes to contemplating Torbee’s future, Garris exhibits the same sense of wonder—of letting things unfold with an open mind, curiosity, and optimism—that typifies Torbee’s content. Beyond hoping to branch out into other languages and to do a traveling live show, she is open to a multitude of possibilities.

“We don’t have one specific vision of where the show could go, but we would love to continue to be a bigger and better resource for parents, caregivers, and kids,” she remarks. “We would just love for Torbee to be a beloved children’s show.”

For more information about Torbee and to find out where to watch episodes, visit torbee.tv.

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