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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.

Based on the book by Newbery Medal-winning author Paul Fleischman, Seedfolks tells the story of a neighborhood brought together by one small girl planting seeds in an abandoned lot. We sat down with award-winning actress Sonja Parks, who brings to life each and every resident of Gibb Street!

1. Tell us about playing so many characters. What is it like developing each one of them?

The sheer number of characters (about 22, including all of the minor characters) and how different they all are from one another, coupled by the fact that they not only talk to each other, but also interact with each other, makes it a challenge!

When we're creating each character, developing a physical life for each is very important. I have to ask myself a lot of questions to make sure they are as fleshed-out as possible. How alike or unlike me are they, physically? How do they move or gesture? Are they younger or older, taller or shorter, thinner or stouter? I need to ask all of these questions and put the answers in my body so the character can begin to live.

After the physical work is done, I need to determine how many things I have in common with my character's personality—good or bad. We all have parts of ourselves that we're not especially proud of or that we're working to change, learn and grow from. That's what makes us human. If I'm not being honest about myself as a person—faults and all—I can't be honest about my character. Once I've answered all those questions and put the answers in my body, we get into the rehearsal room and just play! That's the fun part—seeing the characters come alive after I've laid all the groundwork.

Sonja Parks

2. When did you first read the book Seedfolks?

I had never read the book before I began working on this show! When the show's director, Peter C. Brosius, and dramaturg, Elissa Adams, first asked me to do the workshop, they gave me a copy of the script and a copy of the book. That was the very first time I'd ever read it. I was struck by the poignancy of each story and the careful way Paul Fleischman made sure he didn't talk down to his young readers. That's so important—kids are a lot more intelligent than we give them credit for. When we wrote the script to Seedfolks, we wanted to make certain we stayed true to that idea.

3. How did you first get involved with Children's Theatre Company?

When I first moved to Minneapolis from Los Angeles, a friend told me about all of the theaters I should check out. Children's Theatre Company (CTC) was one of them. I scheduled an audition, got called back for three shows and was cast in all three. I had so much fun doing the first show, I knew I'd found one of my theatrical homes! 

4. Why do you think theater is important at this moment in time?

Theater teaches us how to empathize with one another. When we go to the theater, we exist in the same space together, watching other human beings navigate their problems and challenges. Often, we discover that the things we think divide us, really unify us—our insecurities, faults and places where we fall short. When we're able to connect with another person, it's harder to dismiss their humanity. 

Sonja Parks

5. What's the most memorable audience reaction you've seen to Seedfolks?

There's one moment in the show where I introduce two audience members to each other. One night, I noticed a little girl who was sitting in the front row. She was so sweet and so involved in watching the show that I couldn't ignore her! I went up to her and asked her name. She hesitated for a few seconds and then, quite seriously, said, "My name is Princess Sonja." The whole audience laughed and I, too, had to stifle a smile. I said, "It's so nice to meet you, Princess Sonja. Would you mind coming with me for a minute?" After checking with her father, she took my hand. 

I noticed an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair sitting far-stage right. I took Princess Sonja over to him and asked the gentleman his name. "My name is Saul," he said. I replied, "Nice to meet you, Saul. Saul, this is Princess Sonja." Without missing a beat, the little girl jumped into his lap and gave him a big hug. "Hi Saul!" she screamed. The gentleman was surprised for a second, but then he hugged her right back and said, "Hi, Princess." There was a collective "awwww" from the audience. I gently disentangled the Princess from the gentleman and took her back to her parents. 

When people drop their guard and exist in a moment with one another, that's when the real theater magic can begin!

6. Is there a particular story in Seedfolks that particularly resonates with you?

There are many stories in the play that resonate with me for very different reasons. One of my favorites is Sae Young—a Korean woman who has misfortune befall her. She's special to me because she doesn't allow those things to harden her heart. She keeps looking for the good in life and in people. That's a philosophy I strive to live by. 


Photos: Dan Norman
 
Seedfolks Thumb Named one of "Seven Artists You Must See" by American Theatre, Sonja Parks brilliantly embodies over a dozen distinct and diverse characters in this enthralling solo production. Get your tickets to Seedfolks today!
 
Posted by Beth Henderson


The winter comes to a close with a heartwarming, modern take on Anna Sewell's classic, Black Beauty, running from March 16–25 with an Autism-Friendly Performance on March 19. We sat down with co-creators and New Vic alums Shona Reppe and Andy Manley to talk about the joy of theater for young audiences, pantomime and equine freestyle. 


 

Andy Manley Andy Manley in Black Beauty Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic
1. How does it feel to be back at The New Victory? What are you most excited about this time around?
Andy Manley: It's always lovely coming back to the New Vic. I've been quite a few times now with various shows, and it's really lovely to see how the organization has changed and developed. 

I'm excited about seeing the reaction to the show and playing around in the main theater, which I haven't done since Martha in 2001. Usually I'm in the New 42nd Street Studios with shows for the very young! Also, it's really nice to meet New York audiences, some of which have been to see other shows of mine the New Vic has presented. Of course, I have some good friends who work at the organization, too, so it's a lovely extra to catch up with them.

Shona Reppe: I love the New Vic because it's always a joy to be there. I’m not performing this time—which is a bit strange for me—but I’m excited to see Black Beauty on the main stage and to catch up with the amazing staff at the New Vic! I love NYC. I’m so thrilled, can you tell?!

2. To you, why is theater for kids so very important at this moment in time?
AM: I think theater (and art generally) helps us better understand the world in which we live. It can be quite baffling (even as an adult), so anything that helps us make it a bit more understandable can only be a good thing. It's good to know you are not alone in the universe and that others feel a similar way. 
 

 

Shona Reppe Shona Reppe
SR: In theater, anything can happen right in front of your eyes. It’s not a screen, so it can't be paused or rewound. It's interactive on every level because the audience's presence is what makes the show work. Theater doesn’t spell everything out, so, when kids use their imaginations, that's when the magic happens. If they have their parents with them, that's even better—they share a great experience. 

3. Pantomime isn't as popular in United States as it is in the United Kingdom. Is there anything the audiences should know about panto before seeing Black Beauty?
AM: For our show, all you need to know about panto is that it happens once a year, around the Christmas holidays. Pantos are usually based on a fairy tale, so there are kings, queens, princesses and, of course, a wicked villain who tries to do something dastardly. In panto, good always conquers evil and love is usually in the air, too. 

The McCuddy brothers have an act where they perform as Hamish (think a horsey version of Big Bird). They travel around the country seeing if they can get an audition. Unfortunately, their act is seen as a bit old-fashioned now, so they're not getting as much work as they used to. Because they only work at panto time, they are very down on their luck.

SR: They need to know that when a character says, "Oh yes he is," the audience responds, "Oh no he isn't!" Also, if someone asks where someone is they say, "They're behind you!" Simple. The only other thing they would need to know is that a pantomime horse is a very old tradition and it's meant to be a bit ugly and sad looking (sorry Hamish!).


4. If the McCuddy brothers came to New York, where do you think they would stop first?
AM: Poughkeepsie—they travel very slowly. 

5. What first drew you to create and perform for young audiences?
AM: I really like making work and performing it for kids. They are very honest and don't feel the need to be polite if it doesn't interest them. That's refreshing. It keeps me on my toes. The last thing I want to do is turn them off theater!

SR: I perform for young audiences because they are BRILLIANT, honest, funny and they aren't at all uptight. They just want to enjoy themselves. So do I!

 

Andy and Hamish Andy Manley and Hamish in Black Beauty Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic
6. What's the most memorable audience reaction to Black Beauty you can remember?
AM: I think my mum's. I could hear her laughing all through the show. At the end she hugged me, told me how great the show was and accidentally spilled a glass of wine down my back. That's never happened with any other audience member.

SR: I remember watching someone I knew crying in the final scene. I thought, "YES! This means I've done my job!"

7. What's the trickiest part of wearing the horse suit?
AM: The trickiest part about it? My part! ...don't tell my co-star Andy Cannon though. He thinks being the head is hard but he's wrong. Being the behind is much harder. I can't see where I'm going, I have to have my head next to Andy's bottom and I have to follow Andy's footwork, which can be very...creative at times, even though we have rehearsed the moves. (He calls it equine freestyle and says he is letting out his inner pony...I think he just forgets the dance moves!)
 

 


 
Long Lost First Play Thumb Saddle up and jump headlong into a tale where loneliness gives way to hope, friends become heroes and courage saves the day! Get your tickets today!

 
Posted by Beth Henderson
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