The winter comes to a close with a heartwarming, modern take on Anna Sewell's classic, Black Beauty, running from March 16–25 with an Autism-Friendly Performance on March 19. We sat down with co-creators and New Vic alums Shona Reppe and Andy Manley to talk about the joy of theater for young audiences, pantomime and equine freestyle.
Andy Manley in Black Beauty Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic
1. How does it feel to be back at The New Victory? What are you most excited about this time around?
It's always lovely coming back to the New Vic. I've been quite a few times now with various shows, and it's really lovely to see how the organization has changed and developed.
I'm excited about seeing the reaction to the show and playing around in the main theater, which I haven't done since Martha
in 2001. Usually I'm in the New 42nd Street Studios with shows for the very young! Also, it's really nice to meet New York audiences, some of which have been to see other shows of mine the New Vic has presented. Of course, I have some good friends who work at the organization, too, so it's a lovely extra to catch up with them.
I love the New Vic because it's always a joy to be there. I’m not performing this time—which is a bit strange for me—but I’m excited to see Black Beauty
on the main stage and to catch up with the amazing staff at the New Vic! I love NYC. I’m so thrilled, can you tell?!
2. To you, why is theater for kids so very important at this moment in time?
I think theater (and art generally) helps us better understand the world in which we live. It can be quite baffling (even as an adult), so anything that helps us make it a bit more understandable can only be a good thing. It's good to know you are not alone in the universe and that others feel a similar way.
In theater, anything can happen right in front of your eyes. It’s not a screen, so it can't be paused or rewound. It's interactive on every level because the audience's presence is what makes the show work. Theater doesn’t spell everything out, so, when kids use their imaginations, that's when the magic happens. If they have their parents with them, that's even better—they share a great experience.
3. Pantomime isn't as popular in United States as it is in the United Kingdom. Is there anything the audiences should know about panto before seeing Black Beauty?
For our show, all you need to know about panto is that it happens once a year, around the Christmas holidays. Pantos are usually based on a fairy tale, so there are kings, queens, princesses and, of course, a wicked villain who tries to do something dastardly. In panto, good always conquers evil and love is usually in the air, too.
The McCuddy brothers have an act where they perform as Hamish (think a horsey version of Big Bird). They travel around the country seeing if they can get an audition. Unfortunately, their act is seen as a bit old-fashioned now, so they're not getting as much work as they used to. Because they only work at panto time, they are very down on their luck.
They need to know that when a character says, "Oh yes he is," the audience responds, "Oh no he isn't!" Also, if someone asks where someone is they say, "They're behind you!" Simple. The only other thing they would need to know is that a pantomime horse is a very old tradition and it's meant to be a bit ugly and sad looking (sorry Hamish!).
4. If the McCuddy brothers came to New York, where do you think they would stop first?
AM: Poughkeepsie—they travel very slowly.
5. What first drew you to create and perform for young audiences?
AM: I really like making work and performing it for kids. They are very honest and don't feel the need to be polite if it doesn't interest them. That's refreshing. It keeps me on my toes. The last thing I want to do is turn them off theater!
SR: I perform for young audiences because they are BRILLIANT, honest, funny and they aren't at all uptight. They just want to enjoy themselves. So do I!
Andy Manley and Hamish in Black Beauty Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic
6. What's the most memorable audience reaction to Black Beauty you can remember?
I think my mum's. I could hear her laughing all through the show. At the end she hugged me, told me how great the show was and accidentally spilled a glass of wine down my back. That's never happened with any other audience member.
I remember watching someone I knew crying in the final scene. I thought, "YES! This means I've done my job!"
7. What's the trickiest part of wearing the horse suit?
The trickiest part about it? My part! ...don't tell my co-star Andy Cannon though. He thinks being the head is hard but he's wrong. Being the behind is much harder. I can't see where I'm going, I have to have my head next to Andy's bottom and I have to follow Andy's footwork, which can be very...creative
at times, even though we have rehearsed the moves. (He calls it equine freestyle and says he is letting out his inner pony...I think he just forgets the dance moves!)
||Saddle up and jump headlong into a tale where loneliness gives way to hope, friends become heroes and courage saves the day! Get your tickets today!