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BWW Interview: Director Jillian Petrie and JUNGALBOOK Streaming at The Growing Stage

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BWW Interview:  Director Jillian Petrie and JUNGALBOOK Streaming at The Growing Stage

The Growing Stage (TGS), The Children's Theatre of New Jersey, located in the Historic Palace Theatre on Route 183 in Netcong, New Jersey is proud to present their next Studio Series of the 38th season, Jungalbook virtually streaming on YouTube Live on Friday, July 17 at 7:30PM and Saturday, July 18th at 4:00PM. Written by Edward Mast, Jungalbook is a thrilling and fun-filled adaptation based on Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, which moves the jungle to an inner-city playground as we follow Mowgli navigating his way through the wilds of childhood. This production is directed by Jillian Petrie, TGS's Company Choreographer.

In Jungalbook, audiences are introduced to Mowgli, the human child, who grows up raised by wolves under the guidance of Baloo the bear. The tiger, Sherakhan, wants Mowgli but Bagheera, the lone panther, protects him. Mowgli grows up wild and unconcerned, believing he's a wolf; but the tiger works long and hard to poison the wolf pack against him. With rope stolen from the human village, Mowgli meets and destroys Sherakhan, but its use has broken jungle law. Mowgli must choose whether to defy the law or leave the jungle forever.

Jungalbook is an all youth production featuring 13 young performers hailing from Morris, Sussex and Warren counties in New Jersey. This production is a part of The Growing Stage's Studio Presentation Series.

Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing director, Jillian Petrie.

Jillian is The Growing Stage's Company Choreographer and continues to work freelance in her spare time. She choreographed/directed over 100 productions at regional theatres, universities, opera companies, and in venues off-broadway, NYC, London, and Vancouver. Theatre critic Peter Filichia, declared TGS's production of Seussical, which Jillian co-directed and choreographed, "Better than Broadway". A passionate educator, Jillian is a teaching artist at The Growing Stage and an adjunct professor at Centenary University. Her students have portrayed prominent roles on Broadway, national tours, and regional theatre. Jillian is an alumna of PSU, Director's Lab West, SDCFBroadway, and Broadway Evolved. She is the founder of Athletes & Artists.

Jillian was happy to answer our questions about the upcoming streaming production.

How was Jungalbook chosen for the streaming presentation?

Jungalbook was originally cast and scheduled as a staged production. When the world shifted, we quickly adapted. This adaptation of Kipling's The Jungle Book is actually perfectly suited for the streaming storytelling experience. So it was great that TGS, the cast, and the rights company all said "YES" and we were able to move forward with this production in a new and exciting way.

What are some of the challenges of directing Jungalbook?

To be honest, directing Jungalbook was an incredibly smooth process. That has everything to do with the cast and company involved in the process being so open to trying something new. Our production is a hybrid of theatre and film. Finding that blend as a director was exciting for me. As someone who works in both stage and film, I loved sharing the experience with our young cast. All of which, may I add, were so open to trying new things along the way. The biggest challenge was on the tech side, the cast members have different devices with different features and wifi connections vary, all of that was a bit of a learning curve in the beginning. However, it was a welcome challenge given the alternative. Everyone involved felt very fortunate to have a production we cared about in our lives during this time of physical distancing. I know we are all excited to finally share our production on the 17th and 18th with an audience!

Why have the all youth productions at The Growing Stage been so successful?

This is a great question. I think it all comes down the unique environment The Growing Stage continues to create for their young performers through The Studio Series. The Studio Series brings together a youth cast with a professional production team, who are also experienced teaching artists. The cast has a professional experience balanced with the opportunity to play and grow in an educational setting. As a director, when you value a young performers' artistry and put a focus on their artistic growth, they respect you, they respect the work, they show up to rehearsal ready to go, and they create something incredible to share with the audience.

As a streaming production, what audience would you like to capture?

To me, children's theatre really means family theatre. The mission of the Growing Stage is to nurture the development of the performing arts through education, and to create, produce, and perform works that engage the entire family. What is exciting about our production of Jungalbook is that our audience has now grown from a regional one to include anyone with an internet connection. We are able to bring The Growing Stage into the homes of families and friends who are watching together. While also bringing friends and families who are physically separated together through the shared experience of theatre.

Can you give us a little sneak peak for Jungalbook?

Sure! Our Jungalbook is set in an inner-city jungle gym where we follow Mowgli as he navigates his way through the wilds of childhood. There is something so powerful about seeing this young cast portray these roles. Their honesty comes through on camera so clearly and the strong themes found in the story of trust, fear, defiance, and belonging, are moving.

Tell us a little about the cast and creative team.

The cast is made up of talented performers aged 10-18 who live in many different towns throughout the region. I am the director of the production. My main roles at TGS are Company Choreographer and Teaching Artist. I also have extensive experience directing/choreographing works in NYC, Off-Broadway, London, and on film. TGS's Artist-in-Residence, Perry Kroeger, created gorgeous paintings to serve as the scenic backgrounds that make the entire Jungalbook world come to life. TGS Production Manager, Cara Scalera, stage managed the production. While TGS Educational Director, Lori B. Lawrence, navigated us through the new platform for our Studio Series. We also have TGS Founder/Executive Director, Stephen L. Fredericks, Director of Marketing, Danny Campos, and Business Manager, Stephanie Kingsbury.

The summer is a great time to present Jungalbook. What would you like audiences to know about the production.

It is! This production is accessible, entertaining, and moving. There is substance to Jungalbook that engages both adults and children alike. If you are looking for something unique to do with the people you live with, if you are in search of a way to connect with people you live apart from, or if you want a way to connect through a shared viewing experience, enjoying Jungalbook will be a meaningful way to do so!

Anything else, absolutely anything you want BWW NJ readers to know!

Just a shout out and "thank you" to everyone out there supporting regional theatre during this time. Theatre has the unique ability to bring people together including friends, family, strangers, and communities. Even though we are in a period of physical distance, that fact doesn't change. Creatives like myself will continue to discover new ways to bring the theatrical experience directly to our audiences. Jungalbook is a moving piece that is perfect to watch on film! I know this is the first of many for The Growing Stage, so please follow www.growingstage.com for more information on their future productions!

For more information on Jillian, please Follow her on social media: Instagram @nychoreographer and Twitter @jillianeliza. You can also visit www.jillianpetrie.com and her media company, www.athletes-artists.com.

Jungalbook will be presented as a "Pay What You Can" performance. When you visit https://growingstage.com/studio-series/, you'll see a step by step guide on how to place an order and obtain your streaming link. For further information, please call the TGS Box Office at (973) 347-4946. The Growing Stage - The Children's Theatre of New Jersey programs are made possible, in part, by funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and contributions from numerous corporations, foundations, and individuals.

The Growing Stage is located at 7 Ledgewood Avenue, Netcong, NJ 07857. For more information, please visit: www.growingstage.com

Photo credit: Courtesy of Jillian Petrie


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