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.
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Mr. Popper finds himself a father to twelve penguins! Photo: Helen Murray

When you think of Father's Day, you might just wonder would  Dad will prefer a striped or polka dot tie this year. However, as times have changed, the traditional family has changed as well and ties may not be the thing to buy. This holiday isn't as cut and dried as it once was. With Father's Day this Sunday, let's take the time to really appreciate the ever evolving definition of 'fatherhood.' Whether families have one dad, two dads, adopted dads, or anything under the sun, their role deserves to be celebrated. 

Let's take a look (with minimal spoilers) at a few of our upcoming shows and the way they celebrate what makes a dad, a dad.

Celebrating Sacrifice
In Mr. Popper's Penguins, Mr. Popper comes into possession of one penguin, then two, and then TWELVE! What does he do in response? He rises to the occasion and raises the penguins as his own. While most fathers out there aren't raising penguins, it's safe to say that Mr. Popper is an outstanding caregiver. 

Many fathers out there have unexpectedly come into kids. Or, even if the kid(s) were expected, the responsibilities of fatherhood catches them off guard. Like Mr. Popper, they step up to the challenge admirably, sometimes even sacrificing their own health and wealth to ensure that their charges (be they penguin or human) are cared for and safe. Mr. Popper's displays the love that binds families together and the lengths that all parents will go to to protect their kids, even if it means letting them go when that time comes. 


Chotto Desh
A man and his father are at odds. Photo: Richard Haughton
Celebrating Culture
Chotto Desh, or Small Homeland, is an intimate portrayal of a young man's journey from childhood to adulthood in Bangladesh. In it, he struggles with the conflict between his own modern desire to be a professional dancer and his father's traditional values. 

The father has a deep attachment to his cultural past, while his son, who dreams of the stage, wants to find his place in the modern world. In families, there is often a disconnect between one generation and another. Many kids, like the boy in Chotto Desh, have an urge to fly, to be free, to be their own person, and it's tempting for parents to try to tame this urge. So, let's celebrate the fathers who succeed in bringing their rich cultural history to the table while respecting their kids' desire to strike off on their own.  


Oh Boy!
Balthasar unexpectedly becomes the guardian of his two half brothers. Photo: Christophe Raynaud De Lage
Celebrating Responsibility
In Oh Boy! Balthasar's life that of any typical 26-year-old, gay, young man—without a care in the world. But one day, his life is turned upside down when he discovers that he has two young half brothers for whom he is now solely responsible. Oh Boy! tells the story of Balthasar's coming to terms with his new responsibilities and stepping into the role of father figure. 

The world is a crazy place where the unexpected should always be expected. Even as a young adult, you look around and wonder "Where's the more adult-y adult to help me?" But what happens when that older, more responsible person isn't there? It could be time to buck up and get the job done yourself. Oh Boy! celebrates the transformation from a wholly unprepared young man to responsible adult. Wanting the two young boys to stay together, Balthasar builds a new family in the face of society's preconceived notions of what a 'normal' family should be. Let's hear it for those fathers who define and defend their own families when times are hard.


Nivelli's War
The mysterious Mr. H helps Ernst on a quest home. Photo: Carrie Davenport
Celebrating Wisdom
In Nivelli's War, Ernst never knew his father, he only has a photo and a few short memories. That is, until Mr. H steps into his life with a trick or two up his sleeve, and helps him on his quest to return home after WWII. On their journey, Mr. H teaches Ernst valuable life lessons and gives him a future to look forward to. 

In times of war, many young men are left without fathers or adult guidance. Mr. H knows this and saves Ernst from a lonely existence at great personal cost to himself. As in Mr. Popper's Penguins and Oh Boy! their father and son relationship was not born, it was made through mutual respect, love, and admiration. Many thanks to the father figures who give kids wisdom and perspective in times of uncertainty. 

The 2016-17 Season! Want to learn more about the rest of our season? Make sure to check out what's in store here!

Posted by Beth Henderson
Tags: 2016-17
Written by Diane Paulus, Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University.

I was in grad school assisting Andrei Serban in France and we were doing Massenet’s opera Thaïs. It was the premiere and at the end of the first act there was this pause. Someone from the top ring stood up and screamed down to the stage "Mettre en scène au toilette" which [roughly] means "The direction is in the toilet!" When it was over I went backstage and the French stage manager said, "I'm so sorry. That was so embarrassing." And I said "It’s great! I wish we could be like this in America."

It’s a terrifying thing to really take audience participation that far, but it's something that excites me. If they want to quietly watch, that's fine. However, if they want to stand up, cheer, boo or talk, they should be able to. An audience should be free to have any organic response. I often think of my experience with kids as an example. 

Once, I had a small company out of grad school and we were performing a melodramatic version of Frankenstein. One of the collaborators, Alfred Preisser, used to run The Classical Theater of Harlem and was a teacher at The Harlem School for the Arts. So, on Halloween, we were invited to do the show in the lobby of the school.

There were about 500 kids in this atrium—it wasn't even a theater. The kids went wild. My collaborator Randy and I were there and we were just amazed that the kids were screaming at the monster, "Don't do it! Run! Run!" When the villagers in the play tried to burn the monster and all the kids were screaming, I was amazed as an impressionable young director. It was so alive. The kids were so unedited; they were just talking to actors from the get-go. To me it was the most incredible, pure theatrical interaction. 

Then, the next day, Alfred came down to the theater. "Boy did I get my hand slapped for that experience," he said. "We were trying to teach the kids in the school to be well behaved in the theater. You are quiet, you pay attention, you do not talk to the performers."

I often think about this because I want audiences to have passion. I want them to care about their theater as much as they care about their sports—like when you go to a sporting event and the people scream, "The referee is wrong! Play better!" The kind of passion for a team that comes from those fans is invigorating. They care about it, they know it, they're in on it. What is the etiquette we're teaching kids about the theater?

Of course I get it—it's not always appropriate to go to the theater and scream and hoot and holler. However, I think sometimes we say, "I do theater and here are the rules." I think there is room for all different kinds of theater. I'm not saying all theater should be loud, noisy, interactive or on your feet. But I'm always trying to say don't assume theater is just 'this,' that these are the rules. Keep looking at theater as a broader definition or how can you expand that definition of theater. 

It's such an important thing to turn kids on to theater in the right way.

Editor's Note: This post first appeared as two separate posts on our blog during our 2011-12 Season. It has been edited for clarity.

Diane Paulus is the Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University, and was selected for the 2014 TIME 100, TIME Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Paulus is the 2013 recipient of the Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical (Pippin). A.R.T.: Waitress (currently on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theater), Crossing (a new American opera with music and libretto by Matt Aucoin), Finding Neverland (currently on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre), Witness Uganda, Pippin, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Prometheus Bound, Death and the Powers: The Robots’ Opera, Best of Both Worlds, Johnny Baseball, The Donkey Show. Her other recent work includes Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna, currently on tour in Europe, Invisible Thread at Second Stage, The Public Theater’s Tony Award-winning revival of HAIR on Broadway and London’s West End. As an opera director, her credits include The Magic Flute, the complete Monteverdi cycle, and the trio of Mozart-Da Ponte operas, among others. Diane is Professor of the Practice of Theater in Harvard University’s English Department. She was selected as one of Variety’s “Trailblazing Women in Entertainment for 2014” and Boston Magazine’s "50 Thought Leaders of 2014."
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