Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Interview with Toby Mitchell, Director of Tall Stories' THE SNAIL AND THE WHALE

Beloved tale The Snail and the Whale arrives at the New Vic for a limited (one weekend!) engagement on October 18. Though the show is only here for two days, the tall tale of a tiny snail that's ready to travel the world is sure to make a huge impact on NYC audiences! We sat down with the show's director, Toby Mitchell, and learned a little bit more about the imaginative production.

Without giving away too much of what makes the show so special, can you describe what the challenges were of telling a story within a story?

At Tall Stories we've loved Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's fantastic story about the snail and the whale for years. The original challenge was thinking about how to put that story on stage – with those two very different characters. Reading an article about Storybook Soldiers gave us the idea of telling the story with a young daughter (representing the snail) who desperately wants to go round the world with her Royal Navy father (the whale). Then, it was a question of fitting the two stories together seamlessly and clearly, so the audience knows where they are within each one.

How were you challenged or invigorated by the idea of adapting such a beloved story? How were the authors of the book involved in your process, if at all?

This is the fourth Donaldson/Scheffler book we have adapted and we're always invigorated by their brilliant stories. When we first had the idea for how to adapt the book, we spoke to Julia about it, and while she wasn't sure how the two stories would fit together, she trusted us to work it out. She also came up with the idea of using live music. Meanwhile Axel’s fantastic pictures inspired many scenes in the show – like the ninja crabs and the penguins. Both Julia and Axel have seen the show – and enjoyed it. Phew!

I know The Snail and the Whale has played in a lot of different places. What's the process like of moving a show around like that? How does it change in each city? Or, is there a point where the whole thing is really set in stone?

The show has played around the UK, in Poland, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Bermuda – as well as in Canada and the US. And it’s off to Sydney Opera House in January! It’s broadly the same in each place, but it’s never "set in stone." As with any truly live show – and especially live shows for family audiences – it changes each time, depending on how the audience reacts.

What, would you say, is the core message or take-away from the show? How do you hope kids and families leave feeling?

The core message of Julia’s story is that small things can achieve big things. The message of the show is to love stories and use your imagination. As the dad says, a good story can take you all round the world, without even leaving your room. We hope kids and families will leave feeling energized – and ready to go home to make pillow forts, tell stories and sing songs!

Can you tell us which character is a favorite, or what you love about all of them?

My favorite is the chief penguin (one of many characters played by the very imaginative dad), because he’s so grumpy, but he loves it when the audience gets his song right. And then the snail herself is so brave, so resourceful, so excited by life, that you just have to love her. Meanwhile, the narrator (the daughter as a grown-up) is our friendly guide through both stories, with her fantastic electric viola, creating all the music and sound effects herself.

If a kid or young person told you they want to be a theater director when they grow up, what advice would you have for them?

Watch a lot of theater! Read books and scripts. Think about how you would make characters and scenes come alive visually on stage. And – above all – remember that theater is different from film and television. You can tell stories brilliantly in both those media, but theater is different. Theater is live. Think about what that means. All of us – actors and audience – are in a room together experiencing a story. How does that affect the way you would tell it?

Why should New Yorkers come see The Snail and the Whale at the New Vic?

To experience two stories brought together in one show, complementing each other seamlessly. To laugh, sing and once or twice wipe away a tear. And of course, to appreciate the theater’s fantastic facilities and friendly staff!

Keep an eye out for a fun contest featuring the fearless Speedy the Snail on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on October 6. You could win a copy of the The Snail and the Whale and tickets to see the show!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Third Year Usher Spotlight: Emmanuel Delgado

All season long, we’ll be featuring young people from our Usher Corps program in our New Vic Bills and online on the New Victory Blog. This week, we’re thrilled to turn the spotlight onto third-year Usher Emmanuel (Manny) Delgado from the Bronx, NY!

Who or what inspires you?
My parents inspire me every single day. They're both hardworking people who put their best into everything that they do. They've never stopped supporting my brothers and me. Most importantly, they always talk about the importance of education and remind me to never stop working hard for what I want.

What is your secret talent?
I'm not sure if it's much of a secret, but I love to play the guitar. I love rock music. My current favorite songs are "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin and "Dream On" by Aerosmith.

What is your fondest childhood memory?
My fondest childhood memory was when I was about 5 and in the car with my family. It was late in the afternoon. My parents were exhausted and driving me and my little brother home. We looked out the window and saw a huge amusement park for the first time in our lives. We begged our parents to go inside and couldn't believe it when they said yes. After playing a few games and riding a horse, we decided to end the night with the Ferris wheel. It took us straight to the top and stopped. My entire family just smiled and enjoyed the view. I remember thinking that I could see the whole world that night.

How would you describe your personal style?
I don't know if there's an actual name for my personal style, but I think that the best way to describe it would be "casual friendly geek." I always try to be as approachable as possible and anyone who talks to me will immediately realize how much of a dork I am. I'm not afraid to be silly and reference all kinds of movies, comics, and video games. My clothes are pretty simple, although I do have a fondness for my leather jacket (which makes me look like a greaser) and my suit (which I wear on random days because I don't have enough occasions to put it on).

What's the most challenging part of being an usher?
For me the most challenging part of being an usher is remaining calm when things get really busy and remembering that you're part of a team. It can be easy to get nervous when hundreds of people are moving around and you have to maintain order, but I learned how important it is to take a deep breath and relax. I also learned to trust my peers with sharing the responsibilities so everything flows smoothly.

What's your favorite place to eat or grab food near the theater?
My favorite place to eat near the theater is Lucky Star Cafe because it's so hard to find real breakfast food in Times Square.

What are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of finishing high school and being the first in my family to get a college education. I do this all for them and wouldn't be where I am or who I am without them.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Become a Better Storyteller

This season, you'll see a huge emphasis on storytelling at the New Vic. We begin the season with PigPen Theatre Co., who creatively tell an original fable, The Old Man and The Old Moon. You'll also love The Snail and the Whale, an adaptation of a beloved children's book, staged as a story-within-a-story. The trend continues with Isango Ensemble's The Magic Flute, Complicite's Lionboy, A.R.T.'s The Light Princess, and Windmill Theatre's Pinocchio.

While every family has stories to share like these artists do, we know that not everyone at home has a stage like ours for telling their tales. Luckily, as social media becomes ever-more present in our lives, the avenues for telling your story are becoming more and more diverse. You can tweet, blog, or Instagram throughout your day, building your story through snippets you share. With that in mind, we've put together these ideas to help you try your hand at telling stories with your kids in new ways!

For Tweeters
What kind of stories can you tell in just 140 characters? Writers have long been exploring "flash fiction," or extremely short stories, to communicate deep emotion and plot. Perhaps the most famous flash fiction story goes, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." In just six, powerful words, the author (who some say was Ernest Hemingway) implies so many things to the reader. A more humorous example comes from science fiction writer, James Patrick Kelly: "We kissed. She melted. Mop please!" (Find more fun 6 word stories here.) With Twitter, modern day writers are getting even better at this art form. Try out writing your own Twitter flash fiction!

Try out #SixWordMemoirs for starters. The campaign, started by SMITH Magazine, encourages everyone to try and sum up their life in a six-word tweet. Tag it with the hashtag, and you could be featured on their website as a favorite of the week!

For Old-Fashioned Writers
For some, there's nothing like the thrill of putting a pen to paper. I, too, love keeping a journal of my thoughts and doodling along the way. Trouble is, writer's block is always around the corner, ready to strike!

Avoid getting stuck and use our School Tool Creativity Pages to get inspired by the themes in The Old Man and The Old Moon. Our worksheets are great for the classroom, but can double as a weekend exercise to try together, paired, perhaps, with our Family Activity.


For New Storytellers
Do you like the idea of writing stories, but aren't sure how to get started? If you start paying close attention, you'll see that stories are everywhere! (You don't have to write a book to be a great storyteller.) Begin by listening more. Historically, important stories always began in oral tradition, e.g. talking to other people is a tried-and-true first step.

To get a sense of how to structure a good story, ask your parent, guardian, babysitter, grandparent, teacher, or any other person you enjoy talking with, to tell you about a moment from their past. Here are some "story starters" if you need a little more help. Notice the details that they share, and pay attention to the beginning, middle, and end of their narrative.

Another exercise would be to watch a TV show, play, or movie that you love. Scripts begin as writing, but then are transformed into live action or animation. If you listen more closely, you'll begin to get a feel for the techniques that make a script interesting, compelling, honest or exciting! Take notes on those moments. Reading a favorite book will also help to illuminate these methods.

For Non-Writers
If you're tentative about calling yourself a writer, "writing" might sound challenging or boring. But you don't have to write or even narrate a story to share a story. Think, instead, about what you love to do, and then think about what you can communicate using that talent!

Do you love to skateboard? How can you move your body to communicate an emotion while you ride? Or, maybe you're a great photographer. Show the story of your day on Instagram without any captions. Maybe, like me, you love to cook. Try recreating a recipe that reminds you of a special moment in your life and share that meal with friends and family. We'll bet you'll be feeling like a more confident storyteller in no time!