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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

Traveling all the way over from the United Kingdom, New International Encounter (NIE), the team behind Beauty and the Beast, brings with them a wide array of theatrical and musical talent. The show is a devised piece of theater that reframes older versions of the fairytale with new elements such as live music (performed by the talented company), as well as a change from a story about a damsel in distress to one of female empowerment.
 

During the first production in 2017, Michael Judge, the Associate Director of NIE, asked the cast and creative team a few questions about the development of the ferociously funny retelling. Keep reading for a deeper look into the creation of Beauty and the Beast

Michael Judge: You started with an idea of the classic fairytale, but everything else—the songs, words and actions—the company invented. How did you go about that process?

Alex Byrne (Director): At first, we had a few days where we just met to develop some musical ideas. Then, we started to tell each other the story of Beauty and the Beast as we remembered it. We wrote down major plot points on big pieces of paper, and then tried to connect them in a simple way.

There are a lot of different stories to work from, but we chose to start with the fairytale fairytale. One night, we watched both the Disney movie and the Jean Cocteau black and white French movie together. I was very interested in the French setting of that movie, and realized that I wanted our version to take place in France too. It isn't really in the Disney version, but it is in some of the others—they come from Paris where it's posh and expensive, and they move into a poor, broken down cottage in the countryside. That's an interesting dichotomy—from luxury to ruin—especially because the story centers about what's on the outside of things versus what's on the inside.

Then, we asked each other, "What's the Beast's story? Where does the Beast come from? What did the Beast do to be cursed?"

Sara Lessore (Isabella): In terms of the process, Alex would give us a scene and we would just improvise it. When we liked something, we later incorporated it into the script. 

MJ: So, there was a lot of brainstorming, and then you cut out the rubbish bits and kept the good bits. 

AB: Exactly. We knew we wanted the Beast to invite Isabella to dinner, and I wanted it to be terrible. He has to get it all wrong, and for it to be quite beastly, despite his best attempts. Martin really went for it—sometimes in quite a scary way. It's nice when you go to the theater and see different things that don't normally happen. I think that's why this dinner party scene is so entertaining.
 
SL: There's a process about just saying, "Yes," isn't there? Our ensemble just has this thing about saying, "Yes," and accepting everything. So, if Alex asks us to do something, we just say, "Yes" and go with it. We put ourselves out there.

MJ: Elliot, can I ask you, as musical director, about how you created that music?
 
Elliot Davis (Anastasia and Musical Director): I consulted with Alex a lot, and when he said he wanted it to be set in France—immediately, I knew I wanted an accordian. You can say to an audience, "We are in France," but if you have music that sounds French, it transports them. As for the songs themselves, they emerged organically. 

Usually, we come up with about two, three or four bits of music to see what we can work with and what we can't. One day, Alex and I had some spare time, so we made the first song—the one about the Beast's story. It just came out of messing around with different pieces of music we already had.

We'd walk in the room with enough music to give everyone pieces to play. So, there were loads of arrangements that we didn't end up using. Just messing around is great for a brainstorm, plus getting together and playing music really helps a new cast bond. 

Everyone brought ideas, so when we got closer to the production, Alex and I would have to start saying, "Okay, stop doing that and start doing this." We began to find out what works. It's an ensemble piece, you bring everything to the table, and then you slowly start taking bits away.
 
MJ: Do you have any advice as to how to stay motivated during the creative process, even when it gets hard and you have doubts or worries? 
 

Martin Bonger (Beast): In making a show like this, you have to have fun. There were times when we were struggling, and then Alex would say, "Come on, we need to have a laugh." Or, we'd all come together and say, "We need to have fun—we have to be able to play together." Playing together is how you discover and create new things.
 
I think that something Alex is great at—is getting us to try new things. While we were creating this show, sometimes we would start discussing ways in which an idea might or might not work. Alex always said, "Oh no, no, let's just try it and see what clicks." Sometimes, what we tried, ended up being totally different. So, my advice would be to just try things out, because that's a really great way of finding out what material works. It's okay to be wrong–if you only try to get things right, you're stopping yourself before you can really start. 
 
Michael: It seems like you really look after each other as an ensemble. Alex, what initially inspired you to adapt Beauty and the Beast for the stage?
 
AB: The most important thing for an artist, is to work in good faith. In a way, you say, "I go to work, and I try to make something," and then you try to make it as best as you can and for the right reasons.

Beautiful and excellent bits of culture are essential for a full life—it confirms our humanity. With art, we can see that the questions we have about the world are shared—they're common. Art can celebrate difference and allow us to walk in someone else's shoes. Being a part of the theater audience experience can be really nourishing for children, and for adults. 

So, the reason why we made this show—and the reason that I first proposed it to our team—is because I wanted to make something beautiful and excellent. That was the only reason, and I had to let go of any other sort of motive that drove me, other than that. 
 
Lauren Extrom
Lauren Extrom is the Fall 2018 Communications Apprentice at the New Victory Theater. She is a second-year graduate student in the Performing Arts Administration program at NYU Steinhardt. In addition to her work as an arts administrator and aspiring arts educator, she is an active vocalist and musician in the New York City area.  She sings in the NYU Jazz Choir, and tours with VOICES 21C, a Boston-based non-profit chamber choir.  In her spare time, she practices yoga and improv dance.
Posted by Beth Henderson

This version of Beauty and the Beast might be unlike the one you are familiar with, but it tells the same story—one of magic, love and appreciating beauty of all kinds. In this Family Activity, create a storybook, learn some jokes and write a love poem!

At Home
In Beauty and the Beast, Isabella's family is starting a new life in a new home. In this activity, illustrate the prologue to help you imagine this new version of the story. What's a prologue? It's a part of the story that comes at the beginning of a play, often giving information about events that happened before the play began.

Materials: A printer, this story book template, coloring utensils

Step One: To get started, ask an adult to print out this story book template.

Book

Step Two: Illustrate the storybook. Remember to add color and emotion. Think about the following:
  • What color is the family's castle?
  • How do the twins dress? How does the third daughter, Isabella, dress?
  • How does Isabella feel about their castle?
  • What does their new cottage look like?
Step Three: Read your completed book to a friend or family member. Talk about what you think happens next in the story.

On the Way
The Beast may not seem friendly at first, but he has a great sense of humor. On your way to the theater, practice telling some monstrously funny jokes.

Here are some examples:

What do you get if you cross a frog with a rabbit?
A bunny ribbit.

Why are seagulls called seagulls?
Because if they flew over the bay, they'd be bagels!

How do you make a tissue dance?
You put a little boogie in it.

Kids, on the way to Beauty and the Beast try to get your grown-up to laugh! Keep telling jokes until you can get them to giggle, then switch. Are you looking for more comedic material? Find some more jokes here

Check out Beth trying to keep a straight face on her way to the New Vic!


After the Show
Here are some questions to think about on your way home from the New Vic:
  • When do you think the Beast is happiest? How about the twins? When is Isabella happiest?
  • Isabella says that "love feels like fireworks in her heart." What does love feel like to you?
  • What do you think the main themes of the show are? What lessons do the characters learn?
Love is a big part of this story. In this next activity, write your own love poem to someone you think is beautiful, inside and out! 

Materials: Paper, writing utensil

Step One: Rhyme schemes are the pattern of rhymes at the ends of the lines of a poem. Read these short love poems with two different rhyme schemes, ABAB and AABB:

ABAB
I love you dear with all my MIGHT.
More than the earth and SKY
You are my world, you are my LIGHT.
I'll never wonder WHY

AABB
The earth is big, the world is WIDE
But you I keep right by my SIDE
How lucky to love and how lucky to HOLD
A love like yours that never grows OLD. 

Step Two: Write your own love poem! Try using the ABAB or AABB rhyme scheme, or make up your own.

Step Three: Read it to the person you wrote it for, or perform the poem out loud to your family as if you are in a play. 

BONUS: Extend your poem beyond four lines. Also, try a haiku or a sonnet

And Beyond
Read the The Grimm's Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm to see the origins of many classic stories. You may recognize certain parts of the show you just saw in "The Singing, Springing Lark!"

Check out the Children's Center at 42nd Street for more storytimes.
Posted by Beth Henderson
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