Fairy Folk Myth

A Modern “Poe Man” at Orlando Fringe

I love fringe festivals. They’re such a great way to take chances on new art and artists, and I devote time every year to coverage of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. I didn’t get to attend as much as I wanted to at Orlando Fringe this year, but here are my thoughts on what I did see.  

You choose a one-man Poe show at a Fringe Festival, your odds are 50/50 at best.

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Devennie has a series of images for his show, and this is my second favorite.

I’m glad I caught Poe Man by Joe Devennie: I admittedly entered the show a bit snobbish and left with a firm appreciation of Poe’s lasting effect on the American psyche.

 

I think of Poe, I think early America: rough, young yet still slightly tinged with a British sound. That’s why I’m glad Devennie begins with “The Telltale Heart”. His no-frills approach to the language eases you into his way of telling this story, his Poe — closer to the cool High School English teacher than a muggy idea of Poe drowning in its own importance and expectations.

Devennie draws his “Telltale Heart” narrator straight from the headlines of “He was such a nice, normal boy. I had no idea he could do this sort of thing” [19th century spoilers: he murders a housemate because the old man’s eye puts him off.] We are at least five minutes into his telling before Devennie even raises his voice or shows any signs beyond normalcy. You could be asking him where the nearest bathroom is before he slips into the first sign that something is not quite right.

It’s a great way to present this story, and one that feels all too real in the American of today.

Hop-Frog

I don’t recall ever reading this one. A dwarf, forced into slavery as a court jester (and often the subject of ridicule as well), takes a well planned, maniacal revenge on the King who causes his and his only friend pain.

Devennie uses his well-honed storytelling chops to great effect. I found myself wishing we were actually around a campfire, hearing his words illuminated by chance with fire. Also, love this story! Any show that makes me want to crack open that thick hardcover of The Collected Works of Poe I’ve had for two years has earned its ticket price.

Poe’s description of the slow toll that abuse and bullying takes on a person’s psyche also feels too relevant and real in today’s world.

The Raven

Devennie started The Raven strong, with an old Southern “let me tell you a story on my front porch but I’ve had a few too many” vibe. It was well done and Devennie certainly more than did it justice. The character, however, didn’t reveal anything new about the story. I almost wish he had never left his “porch chair,” and told the whole tale from there. Even though it didn’t add up, ending a Poe adventure on “Nevermore” is never a poor choice.

His last show is an hour after I am publishing this, but he is an Orlando Fringe regular, so keep him on your radar for next year. 

 

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This is my favorite image for his show. 

 

Cover Reveal: Vanity in Dust by Cheryl Low

Tea, pastries infected with (fairy?) dust.

An Evil Queen, dangerous fairies (a favorite twist of mine), a Prince who starts to see through the spell…

These are the reasons why I want to read Vanity in Dust by Cheryl Low.

I am in the process of reading excerpts and will have an interview with Ms. Low soon, who just seems incredibly charming.

In the meantime, here is the cover!

Forever young, endlessly indulged. What could go wrong?

By Cheryl Low
Fantasy
Release Date: August 8, 2017 (pre-order)

Trade Paperback
ISBN-13: 978-0998702216
Novel, approx. 305 pages
Also available as an ebook

Find it Online:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Books-A-Million
Goodreads
iTunes/Apple iBooks
Independent Bookstores
Kobo

Other books in the series: Detox in Letters (forthcoming in 2018)

DESCRIPTION

In the Realm there are whispers. Whispers that the city used to be a different place. That before the Queen ruled there was a sky beyond the clouds and a world beyond their streets.

Vaun Dray Fen never knew that world. Born a prince without a purpose in a Realm ruled by lavish indulgence, unrelenting greed, and vicious hierarchy, he never knew a time before the Queen’s dust drugged the city. From the tea to the pastries, everything is poisoned to distract and dull the senses.  And yet, after more than a century, his own magic is beginning to wake. The beautiful veneer of the Realm is cracking. Those who would defy the Queen turn their eyes to Vaun, and the dust saturating the Realm.

From the carnivorous pixies in the shadows to the wolves in the streets, Vaun thought he knew all the dangers of his city. But when whispers of treason bring down the fury of the Queen, he’ll have to race to save the lives and souls of those he loves.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cheryl Low might be an Evil Queen, sipping tea and peeping on everyone from high up in her posh tower—a job she got only after being fired from her gig as Wicked Witch for eating half the gingerbread house.

…Or she might be a relatively mundane human with a love for all things sugary and soap opera slaps.

Find out by following her on social media @cherylwlow or check her webpage, cheryllow.com. The answer might surprise you! But it probably won’t.

Why TYA Should Join the Dark Side (of Fairy Tales)

Let’s delve into a pretty common denominator in the world of theater for young audiences (TYA): fairy tales. There is no end to internet lists “revealing” or “discovering” the dark origins of fairy tales, yet it is so surprising that, once upon a time, we actually told children scary stories? Shocking!

Many of the original versions of fairy tales were told to help children and adults confront the very real dangers of their times. Hansel and Gretel is an excellent example and very likely the most well known: it’s famine and hunger that motivate the mother or stepmother (depending on the version) to convince her husband to abandon his children in the woods. Most stage productions hide that part of the tale. It is fear of the darkness inherent in the stories that can cause playwrights to move too far in the other, more saccharine direction, leading to meaningless takes on fairy tales that now feel like the norm. When we remove fear from a fairy tale — or any story — we remove its connection to our lives, and that dumbing down affects theater audiences for a lifetime. Without true connections to our own feelings, fears and joys, why bother attending?

Read more at The Clyde Fitch Report

Read Part 1: Why do Theaters Dumb Down TYA (Theater for Young Audiences)?

Caleb Foote and Angela Giarratana in “Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass” (Photo: Cooper Bates)

I Made Better Life Choices Because of “Into the Woods”

My father introduced me to Into the Woods around nine years-old. Some of my most vibrant memories include singing Agony with him in our living room. It was my first experience understanding that stories are told differently depending on the teller, and opened my imagination to interpretations of fairy tales outside of Disney.

I’ve been thinking of how Into the Woods gave me a healthy and challenging outlook on life: song by song, story by story, character by character. Some of these outlooks are revelations the characters have and some are what the audience understands through their journey. Some were lessons I put immediately into practice and some had to wait until I grew older than my nine years.

 

Prologue: Into the Woods

 

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Phylicia Rashad as The Witch (replacement on Broadway for Bernadette Peters, Chip Zien as The Baker and Joanna Gleason as The Baker’s Wife. Photo Credit: Martha Swope/NYPL

Photo Credit: Martha Swope/NYPL

Photo Credit: Martha Swope/NYPL

 

We are all one. All of our stories, our lives, involve one another. No person lives solo in this world, and everyone’s choices affect the lives around us.

 

Go after what you want, even if the road is scary and untread.

Something I didn’t realize was true until it happened to me: Pregnancy can really cause you to crave “greens, greens and nothing but greens!” At least until you crave fruit the next day.

Don’t steal from your neighbor. Seriously.

Only female cows milk (This was definitely a 9 year old me’s revelation. Seems common sense once you know, but I was quite the city mouse.)

Hello, Little Girl

Kids: It’s better to ask your Mother why the woods are scary than just take her word for it. Otherwise, one charming wolf is all it takes for you to step off the path.

Moms: Just talk to your kids about wolves. If all we know is that it’s scary, curiosity will win.

 

I Guess This is Goodbye

Take your moment to say goodbye.  

It’s also interesting to me that this is the only song in the show that doesn’t rhyme, which I learned after attending the Into the Woods Reunion. (Yes, of course I got all fangirl. Bernadette Peters live!)

 

Maybe They’re Magic

You can talk yourself into justifying anything to get what you want, even magic beans. I didn’t always heed this advice, even if I privately acknowledged it to myself.

Little white lies will bite you in the ass one day.

 

I Know Things Now

wolfandredeidinghood

Robert Westenberg and Danielle Ferland in original production, 1987.

 

Oof. Where to start? This song is the most influential on my younger self, particularly with dating. Namely:

Bad/weird experiences are just that, experiences. They do not define you. They do change you. Learn from them and move on with your life. Don’t beat yourself up over a mistake, just don’t make the same one again.

Oh, and if some kindly person saves your life, do offer a gift of gratitude. Especially if you stole their bread earlier.

 

A Very Nice Prince

Everyone will always want what they can’t have.

It’s okay to feel iffy about something or someone you thought you wanted.

If the reality of your dream isn’t what you thought it would be, BAIL. That is what I wanted Cinderella to do, anyway. But I have strong feelings about Cinderella.

 

First Midnight

I‘d probably just have to copy and paste the whole song to explain this one. There’s one line that made an impression on me and pays off later:

“The slotted spoon can’t hold much soup.”

 

Giants in the Sky

You have to understand that I wanted to BE Jack when I was young. Not just play him onstage, but be him.

In many ways, I valued traveling the world because of this verse (bold mine):

The roof, the house, and your Mother at the door.

The roof, the house and the world you never thought to explore.

And you think of all of the things you’ve seen,

And you wish that you could live in between,

And you’re back again,

Only different than before,

After the sky.

Yes, go and explore the world. Travel to new places, meet new people. But make sure you also know where you came from and what it offers as well.

 

Agony

There’s always more to a story than what we think we know. Prince Charmings were so often just set dressing until Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin (with a nod to Prince Phillip in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty for at least having some spunk), and here we discover that sibling competition and bravado has something to do with their choice of a bride. Oh yes, and the need for what they can’t get.The fact that the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince are the same actor deepened the lessons learned in I Know Things Now. *

 

It Takes Two

I thought I understood this song at nine, fourteen, twenty years-old, but only since my husband came into my life do I get to live it.

 

Second Midnight

Wanting a ball is not wanting a Prince. I once learned a friend of mine had been married before we met and I found it hard to believe. Her sister explained that She wanted a wedding, not a marriage. That concept had never really occurred to me, and it’s possible that is because of this song.

 

Stay With Me

Moms are people too. They may overreact sometimes but it comes from a deep love and fear of being alone – though it may seem borderline obsessive to the daughter.

I’m not sure how this may be affecting my own early motherhood, but more time will tell.

 

On the Steps of the Palace

If you’re unsure how somebody feels about you or how you feel about somebody, leave a clue. The interesting ones will follow through. My husband did!

 

Act One Finale

Enjoy your success. That was only Act 1.  

 

Did “Into the Woods” affect you in some way? Share below.

*Obviously this is not how they did it in the movie. That was the first change I heard from live to the movie, and I think it helped me reserve judgment on the other changes. It reminded me that in a different medium, different ways to approach the storytelling are needed. Besides, I like Chris Pine just fine and am not sure Johnny Depp could have nailed a film Prince Charming (the teenage me could have accepted Depp Charming, no question).

 

Shadows of Sherwood – YA review

Buy this book for a teenager near you. Seriously, go get it. Order it and ship it directly to their house.*

Robyn Hoodlum is a cool pre-teen who spends her nights getting into trouble for rebellious adventures. One of those nights while she’s away, her parents are killed or kidnapped, and she’s left with a few clues.

Read more at Dwarf+Giant

.

 

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

I just finished Winter, the fourth and final installment of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (plus a villain back story and other intertwined short stories).

Usually I don’t want a series that I love so much to end, but Meyer wrung as much story out of these science fiction fantasy fairy tales as I think she could possibly find. All of her related short stories are pretty great, though, and I certainly wouldn’t complain if we pick up on some of these characters a few years from the end of Winter. As far as their lives within the limits of their original fairy tales, however, Meyer is done.

Goodreads is responsible for me finding this series, buying Cinder, then binging on it during an airplane ride cross country while my infant son lovingly complied with his Mama the Bookworm and slept the whole way home.

 

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Cinder

The first in the series, and an excellent example of doling out a story drip by drip, beginning with compelling characters (seriously, where’s the Iko spin off?*). By the time Meyer reveals the real plot point that drives the rest of the series, you don’t know whether to root more for her triumph in that regard (Spoilers!) or for Cinder and Prince Kai to kiss already. Throughout the whole series, whether or not she can have both is constantly brought into question.

This book really had me at Cinder being a cyborg mechanic, and it never lost that excitement with such a retelling. Meyer makes each separate iconic element of the Cinderella stories her own, but so beautifully weaves them into a futuristic fantasy world that the symbols of Cinderella often snuck up on me, making their reveals even more pleasurable. In contrast, something like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked had me looking for his personal touch instead of them all flowing naturally from the story.

One of my favorite changes by Meter is Prince Kai: he turns the damsel in distress cliché on its head. Kai often feels like his hands are tied and all he can do is wait in his castle for others – namely, Cinder – to take action. Although his role in the plot is key as the series develops, Kai can often only take so many steps towards helping the cause before someone has to save him. He is one of the best incarnations of Cinderella’s Prince, who is often given no character development, but at his best has to learn to overcome deep prejudices before he can accept the woman he loves. (Sapsorrow in Jim Henson’s The Storyteller series is actually one of the best examples of Cinderella’s Prince having a real and painful character arc.)

I wish this next point didn’t matter so much, but considering how many Cinderellas are blond, it does. Meyer set Cinder in the Eastern Commonwealth, specifically our China, asan homage to what is thought to be one of the first Cinderellas (where magical fish bones are the original fairy godmother, but that’s another story).

 

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Scarlet

The second book was harder for me to get into at first but worth the wait. I think my struggle is partly to do with how much I adored Cinder, and Scarlet starts in a different place (The European Commonwealth, in France to us) and centers around a human. I didn’t realize how intriguing I found Cinder right away by virtue of the fact that she’s a cyborg until I found it hard to connect with Scarlet.

Once I got over that, Scarlet opened up an entire new dimension of the Lunar Chronicles world, giving more clues to Cinder’s story and introducing Wolf! Scarlet and Wolf’s relationship proves to be very complicated, and once again, much more balanced than the fairy tale romances you know. Add to that an incredible backstory for a kickass Grandmother, and Meyer proves once more that she is no lazy storyteller.

By the time we meet up with Cinder and the charismatic convict Captain Thorne (more on him later), I was hooked, ready for all the adventure and trouble in which our characters find themselves. As opposed to a lot of novels where the ensemble sometimes seems to get into fights just for the sake of having conflict, the internal struggles of our team are well motivated, complex and difficult.

Did I mention Captain Thorne? Ok, good, because next up is Cress.

 

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Cress

This one was probably my favorite to read. I thrilled in all the storylines converging, getting separated then merging again. Plus the reimagining of Rapunzel tickled me in the same way as Cinderella: her tower is a small satellite, and she’s a hacker for Queen Levana, the nemesis of our heroines and heroes.

It’s hard to get into this story without offering spoilers, but suffice to say that Meyer pulls no punches in her interpretation. Cress’s relationship to her captors is complicated; her hair and ‘tower,’ though symbols of her imprisonment, are hard to leave; she must find her way through a desert, and her “Prince” loses his eyesight (the source stories blind him when he falls on a bush of thorns, so then we understand where Captain Thorne falls into the picture).

Thorne and his relationship with Cress (not even moving beyond potential in this novel) brought me right back to school-girl crushes. As great as Prince Kai and Wolf are for Cinder and Scarlet, respectively, Thorne takes the fairy tale romance to a new level. How Meyer creates a deep friendship out of a trope that Cress herself acknowledges is testament to her maturity and concern for her characters – and by extension, her teenage readers.

 

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In between Cress and Winter, Meyer published Fairest, the backstory to our villainess Queen Levana. I haven’t read it yet, possibly to keep something for when I get the itch to return to the world of The Lunar Chronicles.

 

 

 

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Winter

In Cress, we are introduced to Jacin, a Lunar Guard with unclear intentions but seemingly trustworthy, until he isn’t. It turns out that he is the childhood friend and desired love of Winter, our Lunar Snow White. She doesn’t use the mind control gift enjoyed by Lunars because she feels it is immoral, and that has her going mad.

Again, to go into too much detail basically gives the whole series away, but we are treated this time to an entire novel set on Lunar (with a few people en route). All of our ensemble play integral roles and hold their own even as their relationships and characters must fight internal and external forces in order to remove Levana from the throne and stop her from conquering Earth.

WIth Winter and Jacin, we are once again reminded that Meyer can write a damn good love story, a unique story with mutual respect and proving that both females and males can be vulnerable, strong, stubborn, gracious, right, wrong, and above all, equals.

Yet, the love stories are not even the main events in these books. Loyalties are tested and crossed, politics mingle with mind control, and an incredibly devoted team fight through so many dangers that I wonder if Meyer herself knew how to get them out of the traps she herself set.

It was a great ride. I always approach YA asking if it would have impacted me as their target audience, a pre teen or teenager.

I would have read the hell out of this series as a teenager, and made sure all my younger cousins read it too.

Male or female, you should introduce the young adults in your life to The Lunar Chronicles. They are equal parts Firefly, Star Wars and fairy tales.

 

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*Silly me. Iko has her own graphic novel!

 

Have not read the other supplemental to the series, Stars Above,which is a collection of short prequels and explorations of the Lunar Chronicles world, including a Little Mermaid story and a preview of a Queen of Hearts novel. 

 

 

 

 

Why Do Theaters Dumb Down TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences)?

“We want to do children’s theater that doesn’t suck.”

That was Debbie Devine and Jay McAdam’s answer when I asked how 24th ST Theatre’s shows were different from their local competition. I laughed and understood. I was just starting as their marketing director and not a parent myself, but I certainly knew the horror stories of wide-eyed “children’s theater” talking down to their audiences.

And so I set about convincing progressive Los Angeles parents that a show about death, or one with a scene about getting your period, or a one-woman King Lear, were exactly the shows they should bring their kids to see.

Read more on The Clyde Fitch Report.

This is the first column in a year-long series investigating Theatre for Young Audiences. Click the Talking TYA tag for more.

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