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Autism-Friendly Pirates and Princesses

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The cast of Disney Junior Live On Tour!

Why Disney Junior Live On Tour! is joining TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative

For Alana Feld, there’s no question why family-friendly theatre is so important. “To have something the whole family can attend—parents, kids, boys, girls, children of different ages—is just really great,” she says. “Kids are so busy and parents are so busy. They need an experience where the family can go together and enjoy each other.”

Feld has dedicated her career to making those experiences possible. As an Executive Vice President and Producer at Feld Entertainment, Inc., she helps produce family-friendly shows for audiences around the country, shepherding tours of everything from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey to Disney on Ice.

Recently, though, Feld Entertainment approached Theatre Development Fund about making one of its shows even more accessible to families in New York.

On Saturday, April 19, the two organizations will partner to present an autism-friendly performance of Disney Junior Live On Tour! Pirate & Princess Adventure, a production for younger children that features characters from the Disney Junior television series Sofia the First and Jake and the Never Land Pirates.

The show, which will run at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, is part of TDF’s Autism Theatre Initiative. The program presents modified versions of live performances that are tailored to the needs of people on the autism spectrum and their families. In the case of Disney Junior Live On Tour!, the adjustments include reducing sound levels, altering sections that typically call for audience participation, and cutting a moment where a Tinkerbell light zooms through the crowd. (As always, trained volunteers will also be on hand, and special areas will be provided for children who need to take a break.) [Read more →]

February 20, 2014   No Comments

It’s Their Turn to Save the World

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In Ma-Yi’s family show, Asian-American kids are the heroes

It’s hardly a surprise when a children’s show has a message. Once adults start impersonating the young, there’s a mighty temptation to preach about the rewards of kindness or being tidy. But in Ma-Yi Theater Company’s production of Lloyd Suh’s The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra GO!, the message isn’t in a tidy moral during the final scene. It’s in the very existence of the show.

The Wong Kids‘ story is taken straight from the Young Adult pantheon: Marginalized adolescents discover superpowers, a galactic menace approaches, and supernatural beings lurk throughout an unassuming neighborhood.

Wrapped in the familiarity, though, is something casually radical. Two Asian-American siblings save the universe.

Since 1989, Ma-Yi has been nurturing and producing Asian-American theatre and theatremakers. The company originally focused on Filipino-American artists, then broadened its mission to the Pan Asian-American community in 1998. To make a seemingly simple children’s show, Ma-Yi reached out even further, spearheading a collaboration that includes the Ensemble Studio Theater, the Children’s Theater Company (CTC) in Minneapolis, and the Great Jones Rep. (New York performances are in the Ellen Stewart Theater at La MaMa.)

The four-year process allowed Suh and director Ralph B. Peña to work with actors and designers in an unusually intimate way. The Wong Kids bears the hallmarks of both a devised piece—physical-theatre invention, playful interaction with the audience—and a densely written text chock full of puns, silliness, and sudden stretches of heartfelt emotion.

Peña, who is also Ma-Yi’s artistic director, is still tinkering. This is his first children’s show, but he’s somewhat haunted by the memory of his company’s last attempt at family theatre nearly 15 years ago. “It was a disaster!” he says. “Don’t ask! We didn’t know what we were doing.”

Here, though, Ma-Yi has a partner well versed in youth-oriented work. “Throughout, CTC would come in and give us notes,” Peña says. “They kept saying, ‘Don’t make children’s theatre!’ Meaning, ‘Don’t come “down” to the children.’” [Read more →]

February 5, 2014   No Comments

Have You Really Heard the Stories in “A Christmas Carol?”

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Patrick Barlow finds rich texture in the holiday classic

From a certain angle, A Christmas Carol is a story about storytelling. After all, the ghosts make Scrooge listen to stories about his own life and the lives of the people around him, and when he finally wakes up on Christmas morning, he’s relieved he can rewrite the tales that upset him most. As a changed man, he wants to create new stories that people can tell about him after he’s gone.

This aspect of the Charles Dickens classic is the driving force behind playwright Patrick Barlow’s new adaptation, which is playing through early January at Theatre at St. Clements. The entire show is performed by five actors, most of whom play multiple roles. Every time they switch characters, we’re reminded that we’re watching a live story unfolding in front of us. Certain characters, like Tiny Tim, are even portrayed by puppets, which only underscores the fact that A Christmas Carol is a fantastical tale, not a slice of life.

Plus, Barlow’s script ends with a revelation that makes Scrooge himself realize he’s in a play. It would be unfair to spoil what happens, but suffice it to say that in this production, it’s actually quite liberating to realize we’re in a theatre and that most of us understand our lives as dramas in which we’re the main characters.

For Barlow, this is familiar ground. His best-known work, a Tony Award-winning adaptation of The 39 Steps, also highlights the nature of the theatre, since it has four actors create an entire world with simple props and various accents. “I use the theatre as a metaphor in nearly every play I write,” he says. “It actually makes me laugh when I see a play that ignores the fact that there’s an audience watching. Why not acknowledge there’s a story? This is my own opinion, of course, but stories are what can guide our lives.” [Read more →]

November 26, 2013   No Comments

The “Monkey” and the Chinese Circus

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Inside the acrobatics of Monkey: Journey to the West

Who knew how difficult it was to find performers who can spin plates? That’s what director Chen Shi-Zheng discovered when he traveled to China to find 23 acrobats adept at traditional Chinese circus techniques. It took him half a year to track them down.

“A lot of people have abandoned training in these classic acts,” explains the New York-based director. That’s why he was so intent on incorporating the art form into Monkey: Journey to the West, the opening production for the 2013 Lincoln Center Festival.

“I wanted to give a spotlight on this dying tradition,” Chen says. “I want the people who are practicing, especially young people, to value what they do. In China, it’s very unappreciated.”

[Read more →]

July 10, 2013   No Comments

How Do You Create 6 Plays in 3 Weeks?

Talking with the team behind Spring Fling

When you ask six playwrights to write short plays on the theme “the morning after,” what do you get? A stage full of mermaids, Amish teenagers, soccer dads, women’s libbers, dirty dishes, and broken hearts.

I was lucky enough to be included as one of the playwrights in F*It Club’s 3rd annual Spring Fling, a short play festival that runs through Sunday at the Medicine Show on West 52nd Street. Since creating the festival was such a wild ride, I sat down with my collaborators to discuss the challenges and joys of mounting a fast-paced DIY production.

[Read more →]

April 9, 2013   No Comments