Friday, January 6, 2012

Theater: "How To Survive A Fairy Tale"

How To Survive A Fairy Tale Poster design by Eamonn Donnelly 
Note: Please excuse any weird layout and formatting issues. I'm having difficulties getting the fonts, their colors and the image anchors to stick.

If you were dropped into the middle of a fairy tale, how would you survive? What if you had never been allowed to read them?

Inspired by Neil Gaiman's Instructions, Lifeline Theater's Jim Grote (Click, Clack Moo: Cows That Type, Dooby Dooby Moo and Duck for President created with composer/lyricist George Howe) has written a new non-musical family play that I hope will not only have a long run but become popular and be performed by other theaters everywhere.

“How to Survive a Fairy Tale” is about a kid named Jack whose parents are a princess and a frog. Because their fairy tale did not turn out as it should have, they shield Jack from fairy tales. Although well-read — the family library contains tomes on all manner of subjects — Jack knows nothing about fairy tales. In his home they are verboten.
One night Jack’s parents go out and a book that Jack has never seen before beckons to him from the bookshelf. As Jack reaches for the book it bonks him on the head, sending him into a deep sleep. He awakens in a forest in the middle of the “Red Riding Hood” saga. The play evolves into a madcap romp through fractured versions of “The Three Bears,” “Three Billy Goats Gruff” & “Hansel and Gretel.” Jack learns a survival tip or two in each fairy tale, & in the end those tips allow him to solve his parents’ dilemma.

 "It (Gaiman's "Instructions") just kind of got the wheels going in my head,” Grote said. He thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if you had a kid who had no knowledge of fairy tales and was suddenly thrust into that world and how would he deal with it?”

You can read the rest of the article HERE and see the main website for the play HERE.

There's a nice blog entry HERE by the artist who did the poster for "How To Survive A Fairy Tale" in which he talks about being inspired by Bill Willingham's Fables graphic novels and by Arthur Rackham's color palettes. I really like the Fables nod and hope teachers, parents and students will see the poster and make the connection that fairy tales are not just for kids. 

So many "fairy tale theater" productions have this (awful) amateur feel to them (argh!) and add to the idea that fairy tales shouldn't be taken seriously by thinking adults. The notion that any fairy tale not playing on Broadway (or in a Disney World/Land) or staged by a world class opera or ballet company just isn't worth seeing (or spending your hard-earned money on) is both incorrect and sad.

Hopefully, both the production of How To Survive A Fairy Tale, the presentation via the Fables-esque poster, the acknowledged inspiration of Neil Gaiman's Instructions (I wonder if Mr. Gaiman is aware of this?) and the reportedly smart and layered writing of the show gives people a reason to reconsider this.

There is a short preview clip at the bottom of the website page HERE (that I wish had much better production value for many reasons!) in which you can see the tone the play takes - one that's clearly aimed at younger children but doesn't (appear to) talk down to them. It's a hard balance to achieve and is the reason successful family plays and musicals, such as Once Upon A Mattress remain rare but popular. While How To Survive A Fairy Tale isn't really in that league, especially as it was written with a specifically very audience in mind, I do wish Lifeline the best with what promises to be a great play.

Now if only I could go see it!

In the meantime, I'll have to go re-read Instructions again... and again...

How To Survive A Fairy Tale, performed by Lifeline Theater, opens at their Rogers Park venue in Chicago IL on January 7th and runs through February 26th. Visit their website HERE for booking information and more.

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