Notifications

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

New Victory LabWorks was launched in 2012 to bolster the landscape of theater for young audiences created in the United States. We envisioned nurturing the creation of new work by providing New York City-based artists with dedicated rehearsal space in our New 42nd Street Studios and dramaturgical guidance, and then watching the companies soar. We hoped that one day works developed in the LabWorks program would return home and land in a New Victory Theater season. Christina Gelsone and Seth Bloom, aka the Acrobuffos, were LabWorks artists in 2014-15. Since then, the Acrobuffos and their beautiful airborne spectacle have, indeed, soared, bringing Air Play to audiences across the U.S. and around the world. We couldn't be more pleased that Air Play is the first show developed as part of New Victory LabWorks to be programmed for The New Victory stage, and we can't wait to see how the other exciting projects developed in LabWorks take off. 

Olga Putilina
Artistic Programming Associate
 

We were standing on the huge stage of the Palace Theatre in Cleveland's Playhouse Square. Seth and I had just turned on our circle of twelve fans and thrown in a single red umbrella when it flew beyond our reach, then kept flying, up, up and further up, far over the theater lights hanging at 50 feet.

 

Big Balloons     Photo: Florence Montmare
"Uh-oh," said Seth, "We need to call The New Victory Theater. This is a problem."

We knew our props would fly, we just didn't know quite how high. We had been working for months with Daniel Wurtzel, an air sculptor from Brooklyn, who had invented breathtakingly beautiful art out of a ring of fans with fabric swirling above it. He's a big deal—his sculptures are installed in museums all over the world. Check him out here. With Daniel, we were busy making new sculptures unique for the show we were building—a collaboration between him, a kinetic sculptor, and us, the clowns. (Yes, really, we're professional non-verbal, world-traveling clowns, even though we don't wear makeup.)

The problem was that we were soon supposed to begin three weeks of rehearsal as part of New Victory LabWorks, a program that fosters the creation of new work for young and family audiences. The rehearsal space had an 18-foot ceiling. Our umbrellas were dilly-dallying without a care in the world at 55 feet. Oops.

We called the New Vic. "We're so sorry," said Seth, "The show got too big." We kept saying "the show" because at this point, we still didn't have a title. Plus, we still weren't sure just what "the show" was going to be… other than big. Really big.

"We won't fit in your space, even though it's such a generous opportunity. Please give our spot to another artist. We'll have to find somewhere else to rehearse."

Now, what you must understand is, The New Victory is not a place you just turn down. You have to be crazy to not accept help from a theater with such a rich history of bringing modern circus and innovative family theater to the heart of Times Square. Crazy… or just too big. Our "little" show had grown into a giant cyclone on stage with a will of its own. To our horror, it wasn't just the umbrellas soaring above our height limit. Our long fabrics wafted up and got stuck in the lights, our balloons drifted past the curtains and our packing peanuts decided to live up in the rafters. Our favorite large prop, a billowy, gentle piece of fabric, inflated into a massive white monster. (We now call it "Moby." Literar-ily.)

 

Christina, Seth and Moby Christina, Seth and Moby in rehearsal

"Send me a video," Jonathan, the New Vic's then-Assistant Director of Artistic Programming, said, and we did. "Oh," he said, "That IS big." We sat in silence for a moment, not sure what to say. Before we could apologize, he said, "Give me a week, let me see what we can do."

We kept working. We figured out how to tame our fabrics (except for Moby, he's still a bit feral), we invented a system to control every fan wirelessly, we searched for advanced theater computer programs to handle the cues we needed, we rewrote our comedy, we special-ordered balloons from Italy, we borrowed some temporary costumes, the stagehands made us a template ground cloth to measure our fans and we took as many pictures and videos as we could. It was a big week.

At the end of the week, Jonathan got back to us. "Good news," he said. "We are able to move you into The New Victory Theater to rehearse." We looked at each other. Did he just say…? "We have a week before The New Victory Theater season starts when you could work with our stage crew. Plus, you can bring in your lighting designer." Due to the unexpected scale of our show, we were the first, and so far only, LabWorks artists to be able to experiment outside the New 42nd Street Studios and on the New Vic's historic stage.
 

 

Snow     Photo: Florence Montmare
This happened in 2014. After that, the team working on our show kept having big career milestones. Daniel Wurtzel's air sculptures really took off—he was featured at the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, in Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna, on Broadway's Finding Neverland and now he regularly works with directors like Julie Taymor, Robert Lepage and Diane Paulus. West Hyler, our director, has, since then, directed for Cirque du Soleil's Paramour, Big Apple Circus, won prestigious awards and has even written, directed and produced his own show, Georama. Our lighting designer, Jeanne Koenig, was installing The Lion King all over the world. And Seth and I? We were still performing internationally with our show Waterbombs! The whole time, we all kept diving back into rehearsal, finagling our calendars, and working on "the show," which found its name that fateful week in Cleveland—Air Play.

It was nice to have a title, but the road wasn't over. We kept rehearsing at Flushing Town Hall in Queens, our first rehearsal "home." We were lucky enough to get another big theater, Zoellner Arts Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to give us space. Cleveland's Playhouse Square (a connection made for us by Mary Rose Lloyd, the New Vic's Director of Artistic Programming) gave us another grant, and gave Air Play its public premiere in October of 2015.

Since then, Air Play has flown us all over the world, literally. We've performed on five continents, including an opera house surrounded by active volcanoes in Chile, across the river from Big Ben in London, with cockatoos and giant fruit bats flying right outside the theater door in Australia and having tickets scalped for our sold-out show in Shanghai. 

Seth and ChristinaAnd now, a few years later, we're back at The New Victory Theater, performing Air Play at home in New York City for the first time. Put on your seatbelts, it's gonna be a wild ride.

P.S. Please don't feed Moby.

Christina Gelsone works with her husband, Seth Bloom, as the Acrobuffos. Since becoming clown partners in 2006, they have created five shows together, competed in international circus festivals, performed in over 20 countries, juggled on Late Show with David Letterman, headlined at the Big Apple Circus, and were featured in The New York Times. Their websites are airplayshow.com and acrobuffos.com.
 
Posted by Beth Henderson
 |<  < 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10  >  >|