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BWW Interview: 'Kids just want to be talked to like they are humans!' Amy Sweeney talks THE TORTOISE, THE HARE AND OTHER AESOP'S FABLES at Center for Puppetry Arts

BWW Interview: 'Kids just want to be talked to like they are humans!' Amy Sweeney talks THE TORTOISE, THE HARE AND OTHER AESOP'S FABLES at Center for Puppetry Arts

At first glance, a puppet show around well-known fables might seem rather simple, and only entertaining for small children. However, THE TORTOISE, THE HARE AND OTHER AESOP'S FABLES playing at the Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts brings an exciting theme to these renowned stories that have been popular with children and adults for hundreds of years. As part of the Center's Theatre for the Very Young Initiative, the show is aimed for young children ages 2 and over, but finds resonance from adults and children of all ages. We sat down with veteran director Amy Sweeney and discussed what makes this production so special to share with young audiences.

The Center for Puppetry Arts might be something that that is well known in Atlanta, but not everyone is super familiar with. Can you give us an overview of the work that the Center does through its Theatre for the Very Young initiative?

The Center is super unique, being the largest puppetry center in the United States. Not only do we focus on children, but we also have shows that are geared toward adults and teenagers as well. There's entertainment for all ages here, which is not something that you find everywhere. We started focusing on Theatre for the Very Young about 6 years ago. We discovered that this was a really exciting age group to focus on, because not only are you getting kids at a very young age, but you're able to start teaching them how to participate in theatre. The parents were super grateful to have something that they could do with their children that was not only exciting to their children, but to them as well.

Can you tell us about how this production of THE TORTOISE, THE HARE AND OTHER AESOP'S FABLES came together?

It was adapted by Michael Haverty, who directed the first production. I was a part of the first production playing the character of Cutie. The story takes five of the Aesop's stories and places them in a Circus setting, with a little carnival flair to them. It was a fun way of presenting the story, without being stodgy. Michael did a very smart thing and actually removed the morals from the end of the stories. So, as opposed to seeing the morals displayed at the end of the stories, its more about what you take away individually. I thought that was very smart, because this age group gets told what to do and what not to do a lot. It's cool to give them a story and ask them, "what did you get out of this?" Its changed a little bit as we've done it each time, since this is our third production. To me, the main focus is different aspects of friendships. Sometimes you meet new friends, sometimes you have to help each other out, and sometimes you have to forgive friends - like the Fox and the Crane. People get different messages from each story, so I thought that was really smart of Michael to remove those messaging elements. The glue that holds the whole story together are the characters Cutie, who's a ringmaster character - and Patootie, who is a clown character and doesn't speak, except through Kazoo! Their relationship is very cool to watch throughout the show as well.

Having been both an actor and a director of this production, what are some of the challenges and advantages of directing a puppet show?

A major challenge of this show is that there are only two performers, and five stories to tell. So there are two performers to portray 10 characters! Finding the differences and being comfortable and confident in each character is really tricky. We really lucked out and for the character of Patootie, we have a fellow named Matt Baum who has major circus skills. So we have juggling, unicycle riding and clowning in the show! Jimmica Collins who plays Cutie brings such a beautiful, conversational spirit with the kids. She's so good with children, and you never feel like its fake. Another challenge in making a Theatre for the Very Young production is making it truly conversational and natural. A lot of times, people want to talk to kids like they aren't human. They want to entertain them, so they put a lot of energy into being noisy and animated. Kids just want to be talked to like they are humans! It's a lovely dynamic between the two.

Directing the show is challenging because I've been through it before and know what the feel for each scene should be. Both of these performers are pretty new to puppetry, so its also challenging to teach them the different intricacies of each of the puppet styles. We have tabletop, shadow and body puppets in the show, so all different types of puppetry are incorporated!

What do you think makes this production a unique show for young kids and their parents to see?

I think the most unique thing is that the morals are removed from the storyline, so that everyone can interpret it in their own way. Also, the sheer number of puppets that we have in the show and the different types that are utilized. Even though the show is only about 45 minutes, it doesn't feel that way at all. Its constantly moving and there's always something new to look at. It moves along really well, and it's extremely entertaining!

THE TORTOISE, THE HARE AND OTHER AESOP'S FABLES is playing at the Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts August 14th-September 23rd. More details and tickets are available here.

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From This Author Stephanie Robb