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.

Ever since they were first created, Mo Willem's Elephant & Piggie books have enchanted both young readers and their parents. Now, the dynamic duo dances onto The New Victory Theater stage in a musical! We sat down with Mo Willems, their original creator and author of the script, to ask him a few questions about theater, his characters and writing a story! 

Elephant and Piggie in the Musical1. How did Elephant and Piggie become a musical? 
The folks at the Kennedy Center and I started discussing creating a theater piece for Elephant and Piggie while we were producing Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical. Initially, I was reluctant, as I couldn't get a handle on what type of story to tell. But, when the idea of a vaudevillian 'revue' of Elephant and Piggie's greatest came up, I was excited to get the creative team back together and go!
2. What does "Love of Theater" mean to you? 
Live performances have a unique magic. Every single person involved (the actors, the technicians, the ushers, the theater staff and YOU) decided to show up at the same place, in the same moment to experience the same thing together. So, each show is a dialog between the performers and the audience that can never be repeated. Collectively, we all share a special bond for a short time before we go back home to our normal lives. That's pretty cool.
Elephant and Piggie in the Books3. What's the most important aspect of both Elephant and Piggie that you want the two actors to capture in their performances?
Elephant and Piggie squabble, have misunderstandings and make mistakes. But, through it all, they are always generous in their love for each other. It's tricky being so silly while keeping a real emotional connection with each other and the audience.
5. Do you have a favorite anecdote about an Elephant and Piggie fan? 
Once during the "Should I Share My Ice Cream?" section of the play, when Elephant Gerald decides he WILL share his ice-cream a young audience member cried out, "You FOOL!"
6. What's your first step in creating a new story?
For me, every story is a question I don't know the answer to. I figure that if I don't know the answer, then maybe my audience doesn't either and we can discover it together. I always think of my audience, but never think FOR my audience.
7. Do you have a favorite moment or song from Elephant & Piggie's We Are in a Play?
That's easy: the applause at the end of the show! Actually it's not for me to decide what works in the play. YOU get to choose what you liked (and what you didn't like so much). That's part of the dialogue.

© Artwork by Mo Willems
Candace Penn Mo Willems is a Number 1 New York Times bestselling author and illustrator, is bestknown for his Caldecott Honor picture books Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, KnuffleBunny: A Cautionary Tale and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity. His Elephant and Piggie early reader series have consistently topped the New York Times best seller lists, been translated into numerous languages and have been awarded two Theodor Geisel Medals and five Geisel Honors since debutingin 2007. Mr. Willems began his career as a writer and animator for Sesame Street (PBS), where he garnered six Emmy Awards for writing. His television career includes creating The Off-Beats (Nickelodeon) and Sheep in the Big City (Cartoon Network) and serving as head writer for Codename: Kids Next Door (Cartoon Network). Since leaving television, he has continued to produce short animated films based on his books that have won numerous awards in festivals around the world. As a performer, Mr. Willems has appeared at numerous venues including the San Francisco Sketchfest, BBC Radio and NPR. His first play, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical, also a Kennedy Center commission, was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for best new play. Mr. Willems is honored to be working with the Kennedy Center again for this production. Read more here. Banana!
Posted by Beth Henderson

This post was written by Candace Broecker-Penn, co-founder of Hands On.
Candace Signing
Candace interpreting Mother Africa: My Home.

While The New Victory Theater was still being renovated in 1995, the organization knew they wanted families with Deaf or hard of hearing parents or children to enjoy their seasons of shows. They reached out to us at Hands On, a service organization committed to providing access to the arts for Deaf and hard of hearing people here in New York City. The rest was history! For 21 years we have been working hand in hand providing sign interpreted performances for every show. 

Every season, we start our work the spring before when we meet with the New Vic staff to pick the interpreting dates. We also discuss the specific needs and challenges of each individual show. We’re some of the first people outside of the New Vic to see the scripts and get a glimpse of the wonderful upcoming shows, lucky us! While I interpret many of the shows myself, I often need a ‘team’ to help me out, so I make some calls to the talented interpreting community. Last year we had 14 interpreters working with us and our Deaf advisors! 

Porscha SigningOver the years the number of families who come to the New Vic has grown immensely and we now have a fantastic, dedicated audience. We greet each family in the lobby, and enjoy talking to audience members before and after the shows. There are often fun activities in the lobby and opportunities to meet the performers afterwards for autographs and pictures. We found a whole new audience this past fall when Hands On interpreted one of the autism friendly performances of Mother Africa: My Home. Hands On was asked by a Deaf mom, who has an autistic son if there was a way to combine both special nights. The New Victory and Hands On worked together on this opportunity and the whole family had a great time enjoying the circus together. We left the theater smiling, when a young girl, who was on the spectrum, shared her excitement about the interpreting because–as she proudly announced–she knew signs as well. It was a terrific experience for the whole audience and we look forward to repeating it in the future!

To help us coordinate all of these exciting initiatives, we have many amazing ushers who help us. Recently, we’ve been thrilled to see that many of them have expressed an interest in the Deaf community. Some, like Shamar Pelzer and Porscha Rippy, have learned ASL and gone out into the community to learn and volunteer. Shamar is even thinking about becoming a sign language interpreter! Having a direct conversation–whether it’s getting a ticket scanned or asking for a booster seat–helps to make the New Vic a place that everyone feels welcome. 

A mother and daughter at the ASL performanceBesides working with the wonderful Usher Corps, we also get the opportunity to work with the New Vic’s stellar group of teaching artists when they conduct classroom workshops at The Lexington School for the Deaf. When the TAs work with Deaf high school students on pre- and post-show workshops, we get to interpret! I love getting to see teaching artists begin to pick up signs from the students over the months they work together. 

The New Victory has something for everyone in the family. We’ve interpreted shows for infants as young as six-months-old to high school students to grandparents as old as ninety. It’s wonderful to see families with Deaf parents or Deaf kids watching, laughing and wanting to come back. It’s an honor and pleasure to work here and we at Hands On look forward to 20 more years!


Candace Penn I am Candace Broecker-Penn, co-founder of Hands On and a certified American Sign Language/English interpreter. I sign many (many) shows on Broadway – but I will admit that my favorite times are here at the New Victory because this is where children learn to love theater like I did when I was a child.

My parents are Deaf and I grew up as a bilingual child using both American Sign Language and English. In college, I studied theater then worked with The National Theatre of the Deaf. As one of their speaking actors I toured the US and around the world presenting theater in ASL. Some of my favorite memories are performing Derek Walcott’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight at the Kennedy Center’s Imagination Celebration, touring Our Town to Japan, taking Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to Trinidad and performing on Sesame Street

We interpret theater, publish a monthly calendar of events for the Deaf community and do workshops and training for theater interpreters. We’re small, but active - interpreting shows at many theaters in NYC – among them Roundabout, Radio City and Shakespeare in the Park. Beth Prevor is the Executive Director. 
Posted by Beth Henderson
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