Monday, August 21, 2017

Old Turtle and the Broken Truth

Book by Catherine Bush & Music and Lyrics by Dax Dupuy
Directed by Sarah Sutliff
Produced by Rebel Playhouse

Nominations: Outstanding Choreography / Movement, Sarah Sutliff; Outstanding Production of a Musical

Photos by Theik Smith Photography

About the Company:  Rebel Playhouse is a non-profit, educational theater company that produces shows for children and families based on stories that break traditions and challenge normative thinking, and offers classes designed to foster creative development.

About the Show: Old Turtle and the Broken Truth was an interactive musical for all audiences based on the children's book of the same name by Douglas Wood. The production included dance, puppetry, and audience participation. In Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, a truth falls like a star from the sky and breaks into two pieces. When the villagers discover only half of the truth, it causes so many problems that Little One, a brave young girl, decides to search for the missing half. With the help of Old Turtle, and many animal friends, Little One is able to mend the broken truth and make it whole again creating a better world for everyone. Old Turtle and the Broken Truth is a powerful allegory about accepting and welcoming differences.

Producer Clara Kundin and Director/Choreographer Sarah Sutliff talk about staging this innovative morality tale.


What first attracted you to this project?

Sarah: My connection to this production is twofold: first as the Artistic Director of the Rebel Playhouse I knew I had to select an inaugural production that would pack a punch and show that children's theatre could be deeper and darker than what many think of in regards to Theatre for Young Audiences. The message of Old Turtle... can be challenging, but I felt that it was particularly relevant and important in light of our current national climate of distrust and miscommunication. As soon as I selected the piece to serve as our season opener, I knew that I wanted to be the one to tackle it as Director and Choreographer.

Clara: Rebel Playhouse wanted to present an inaugural production that was outside of the norm of the typical stories presented in theatre for children, and would be appealing to both child and adult audiences. Old Turtle and the Broken Truth tackled challenging themes of war, religious belief, communication, discrimination, and morality in a delightful package of a one hour musical with dance and live instrumental performances. It permitted our younger audience members to reflect on issues that effect our current world, and showed adults how deep and complex theatre for young audiences can truly be.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Sarah: I had the most talented, authentic, and passionate team of performers and artists. They made every day working on Old Turtle... an exploration and a joy. They made my job easy, and they dove into every suggestion, every musing, with 110%.

Clara: The best part of working on this production was seeing how truly universal the themes and messages the piece explores truly are. They moved our actors, they moved our production team, and they moved our audiences, young and old. Listening to the audience feedback after each show was profound, particularly realizing just how much our younger audience members were able to comprehend of some very challenging moments in the piece. They were able to speak about and reflect on Old Turtle and the Broken Truth in a very conscious and honest way.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production?

Sarah: We put on a 13 person musical with live music and full choreography in a very small black box theatre. The greatest challenge was definitely making the best use of the space without allowing the staging and choreography to leave the audience feeling cramped or overwhelmed.

Clara: We realized at the offset what a lofty undertaking this production was. To have a 13 person cast in which all performers had to play instruments and sing and dance and had devising experience seemed a daunting task... but shockingly that was the easy part! The greatest difficulty was finding a performance space. As a brand new company with limited funding, trying to find a performance space that was in our budget, could accommodate us for the full duration of our run, and was large enough to serve our staging and choreography was quite a challenge. The Dorothy Strelsin Theatre wound up being a magical space for us to call home for our three week run, but it came after many weeks of searching and inquiring.

What did you want the audience to walk away with after watching Old Turtle...?

Clara: We wanted audiences to leave our production with greater expectations for the quality and content in theatre for children, and a new appreciation of what musical theatre can look like. There is so much more range to the genre than the huge big budget dance musicals you see on Broadway.

What was one of the most notable elements of this production for you?

Sarah: I took inspiration for a great deal of the choreography from the tradition of the Haka; a Maori war dance/cry. The New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team is notorious for their pre-game Hakas, and I must have watched about 3 dozen Haka videos compiling the physical vocabulary of a dance that would suggest intimidation and battle. The climactic fight/dance in Old Turtle... was the first number I choreographed, and although I feared it may intimidate younger viewers, the feedback from the children in our audiences was overwhelmingly positive.

Clara: We were so lucky to have our incredible composer Dax Dupuy not only serve as our Musical Director, but she was also the production's pianist and she played Old Turtle herself! How's that for range!? Dax was onstage playing piano for the whole show, and she emerged from behind the piano in a great reveal to "enter" as Old Turtle. We loved the magic of the ever-present pianist turning out to be the wise Old Turtle, so in our programs we listed Dax as "The Pianist" so her appearance as Old Turtle would be a complete surprise to our audiences. We adored that in almost every show a child in the audience would exclaim "Old Turtle was playing the piano this whole time!!!"

Did you learn anything from your experience of working on this production?

Sarah: I learned so much. I guess my biggest take away is that regardless of how many curveballs may be sent your way, you never have to settle. Old Turtle... wound up being all I could have wished for, and more. As a brand new company presenting a new work, there is a great potential for roadblocks. We just never accepted them as absolutes and pushed through them all.

What was it like working with Rebel Playhouse?

Sarah: Well, I am a bit biased because Rebel Playhouse is my baby. Clara Kundin, Greer Samuels and I founded Rebel Playhouse in the Fall of 2016 in the hopes of promoting stories that challenged traditional thinking, advocating for truly non-biased and non gender/age/or race specific casting, and encouraging children's theatre as a whole to dive deeper and push harder. I like to think that we accomplished all of these things in our first production.

What was it like working with Sara Sutliff?

Clara: Sarah Sutliff is a force to be reckoned with in all that she does. The choreography of this show didn't end with each song. With a cast of 13 actors onstage at almost all moments and a small theater, each scene was a delicately choreographed ballet. She made a tight space feel open and inviting. As a person, her enthusiasm, talent, and professionalism set a high bar for those she works with, and we are all the better for it.

Make sure to check out Rebel Playhouse on Twitter and Instagram @rebelplayhouse


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