BWW Interview: Michael J. Feldman Making FAIRY TALEs Out Of A Lemon Date

BWW Interview: Michael J. Feldman Making FAIRY TALEs Out Of A Lemon Date

Writer/performer Michael J. Feldman world premieres his long-incubated FAIRY TALE THEATRE 18 & OVER: THE MUSICAL at The Pico, opening September 14, 2018. We had a chance to query Michael on how he turned a bad date experience into a full-length stage musical.

Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Michael!

My pleasure.

So please explain how a date gone wrong ten years ago morphed into FAIRY TALE THEATRE 18 & OVER?

It was actually a mix of several things that morphed into FAIRY TALE THEATRE 18 & OVER. At the time I was dabbling in the stand-up world, but I felt like... what's the term?... not funny. I picked up Steve Martin's book, Born Standing Up, and it shook me to my core. His stories of just going for it and being absolutely insane onstage inspired me. I thought, "I'm having a tough time being myself on stage, so screw it, I'll be a squirrel!" And so, I came up with this squirrel character who just woke up from hibernating, and I'm STARVING, and I can't find the acorn that I buried away before the winter. And I'm screaming and whining and asking the audience if they've seen this acorn anywhere. And it was going over really well, and I remember thinking, I wish there was a show in which I could utilize this character. Around the same time, I met this guy who I was very attracted to, and we went out... and nothing happened. And we went out again, and nothing happened. And I thought, "Okay, fine!" He wants to be friends, that sucks, but it is what it is. Then he made reservations for a restaurant I had mentioned that I loved, and he bought me tickets to see a group I had mentioned that I loved. And I thought, "Okay, maybe he wants to be more than friends!" Then his SIBLINGS show up on the 'date!' They were in town, so he thought it'd be 'fun!' I wished there was SOMETHING that could teach me whether or not this is a date, like a fairy tale for adults... and suddenly, I thought about the squirrel character and got VERY excited! That's it! Use animals and puppets to tell child-like stories with morals and lessons for grown-ups! FAIRY TALE THEATRE was born.

You created FAIRY TALE THEATRE 18 & OVER over seven years ago. How has it transformed into its present state as FAIRY TALE THEATRE 18 & OVER: THE MUSICAL?

BWW Interview: Michael J. Feldman Making FAIRY TALEs Out Of A Lemon DateWhen I first created FAIRY TALE THEATRE 18 & OVER, I was very interested in solo performance. I was just coming off of touring colleges with a solo show I had written. So the first FAIRY TALE show was just me and a puppeteer (Jess McKay). I referred to it as a 'one man plus puppeteer show.' Over the years, I started implementing guest stars. The tales themselves got larger, with more characters, and I needed more puppeteers. It finally grew into a show with three puppeteers and rotating special guest stars. We took the show to Edinburgh in 2015, and had the most incredible time! When we got back to L.A., I felt inspired. I wanted to do the show and 'kick it up a notch' (whatever that means), and that's when I decided to write a musical version. The show is so over-the-top theatrical already that it lent itself perfectly to a musical format.

What were the challenges over the seven years you had to overcome to 'world premiere' it here in Los Angeles with the Ammunition Theatre Company?

We've done countless productions of FAIRY TALE THEATRE, and each time I write new material. At this point, we've performed over 80 tales. Each show presented its own set of challenges. When it comes to this musical, I started writing it a couple of years ago. But I knew right away, it was WAY too massive and expensive to mount. So I shelved it. Fortunately, years later, I joined a theatre company with a bunch of insanely talented people I knew from NYU (and elsewhere in L.A.) and they decided to put it up for their fall 2018 season. Without their resources, I never would've been able to mount this production.

What's the status of your show being optioned by a production company?

It's currently optioned by the digital division of Warner Bros in hopes to transform the show into a web series. I think the short, contained format of the show lends itself perfectly to a web series. But this won't stop me from putting up the stage version. My dream is to have a hit TV show, which draws more audience to the live show.

So, as the playwright, how much creative control did you have in casting this world premiere, both on and behind stage?

BWW Interview: Michael J. Feldman Making FAIRY TALEs Out Of A Lemon DateI had a lot of creative control in those areas. Since the beginning, I've always cast people that I know to be powerhouses as actors. I studied theatre at NYU, and improv/sketch at Groundlings for years. It's primarily from those two worlds that I cast the show. In all my years of doing FAIRY TALE, I've never held auditions. I write with certain people in mind and I always try to cast the best person for the role. This particular show, because of the musical element, created more of a casting challenge. I had to find people that are basically quadruple threats - acting, dancing, singing, AND puppeteering.

Will the songs in FAIRY TALE be originals? Or parody covers of popular songs?

All the songs are originals. There is one tale that is a nod to INTO THE WOODS and we do what would be considered a parody of the opening "I Wish" number, but other than that it's all original.

You received your BFA from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Did you study to be an actor, a stand-up or a writer. Or all the above?

I studied to be an actor, but I quickly learned that acting didn't fully gratify me creatively. Teachers would say things like, "You have to NEED to be on stage!" But I never felt a need to perform, say, THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Sophomore year, I took a course called COW (Creating Original Work) which completely changed my life. That's where I started writing and performing my own material, and I was like, "Oh! THIS is what I want to do with my life!" I created my first full-length solo show senior year, about growing up gay in my conservative Jewish family, and I ended up touring the show at theatre festivals across the country. The show also forced me to come out to my parents since articles were being written about the show when I performed it at the NY Fringe. So that was fun.

I see you keep your improv chops worked out with The Groundlings. What was the craziest audience response you experienced there?

Not sure about craziest, but the most embarrassing audience reaction I ever experienced at Groundlings was when my scene partner and I wrote this outlandish sketch about two hideously ugly Sirens (a parody of the ODYSSEY) and we thought it was absolutely hilarious. We got virtually no reaction from the audience during the entire sketch. It was silent and beyond uncomfortable!

BWW Interview: Michael J. Feldman Making FAIRY TALEs Out Of A Lemon DateYou've been onstage at colleges, festivals across the country. What's the differences in college or festival groups when comparing them to The Groundlings' audiences or to the Los Angeles theatre community?

I think Groundlings and L.A. theatre audiences are just tougher. For the most part, the colleges and festival worlds I've performed at have been incredibly welcoming and warm. And that's not to say L.A. audiences aren't welcoming, but they do have a higher bar for quality. And I like that. It forces me to be on top of my game, and to keep reinventing the show for loyal audiences who repeatedly come see the show.

With your increased television writing commitments, will you attempt to squeeze in some stage performing?

I always like squeezing in some stage performing, there's nothing quite like it. And I find that I need it for my (I hate that I'm saying this) creative soul (ugh, I just said 'creative soul'). Whenever I'm feeling antsy and distracted, I realize most of the time it's because I'm JUST writing, without having the other creative outlet of performing.

When an idea sparks in your head, do you visualize it in both the mediums you write for (TV, stage)? Then, do you adapt your required elements to that medium?

Usually when I get an idea I know immediately if it's going to be for TV or for stage. If I ever do have an idea that would work for both mediums, I usually err on the side of TV. I love theater, but uh, it's not exactly the best money-maker.

BWW Interview: Michael J. Feldman Making FAIRY TALEs Out Of A Lemon DateWhat feels would you like The Pico audience to exit the theatre with after the FAIRY TALES curtain call?

I want them to be feeling joyful, raucous, inspired, and determined to take on all of life's challenges! Or at least, a few of life's challenges.

Thank you again, Michael! I look forward to reliving the results of your horrible date!

Thank you for all your questions!

For ticket availability and schedule through October 7, 2018; log onto www.ammunitiontheatre.com

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