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New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

Artistic Director of Slingsby Andy Packer gives us the inside scoop on The Young King!
 
1. What were your first steps in creating The Young King?
 
The Young King rehearsal photo
First, we invested two weeks into a creative development process that we call "Paths Less Travelled." This is an exploration of theatrical form, and comes before we even commission a playwright. In late 2015, we gathered together our core creative team of Geoff Cobham (Associate Artist, Design), Quincy Grant (Associate Artist, Composer), Wendy Todd (Designer) and myself, along with Actor Matt Crook and Stage Manager Nichola Keene. Over the two-week development period, our goal was to find the best and most beguiling way to create an intimate experience for our audience out of Oscar Wilde's short story, "The Young King."

Theater is one of the only art forms where the creative team and company have the chance to share time and space with their audience, so we were inspired to make the most of this opportunity for human interaction. The "Paths Less Travelled" process for The Young King commenced with the question,  "How do we make theater the most desirable social act?" Throughout the process we established the following creative manifesto for The Young King:
 

• Our audience is a group of strangers that we want to turn into a community.

• We value the experience as much as the story.

• Our goal is to make adults and kids feel equal and to find the humanity in us all.

• We must discover the story together with the audience.

• Remember, accidents keep the world of the play real.

• Every night is unique.

• Our audience should start and end The Young King at home.


The invaluable knowledge that we gained informed the commissioning of award-winning playwright Nicki Bloom. She even wrote the entry process for The Courtiers—characters the audience meets when they first arrive at the theater. This element of our production adds another wonderful opportunity for connection, as The Courtiers are often local artists from wherever we perform the work. At the New Vic, these roles will be brought to life by Teaching Artists and Ushers. 

2. How did you adapt Wilde's short story into a play? Why did you decide to change what you did?

Nicki Bloom's script for The Young King maintains much of Oscar Wilde's language, but structures it in a way that works for a theatrical telling. The major change that we asked Nicki to incorporate into her adaptation was to shift the end of the story towards a more universal conclusion. Moving the final "blossoming" image to a forest setting creates a broader meaning and an opportunity for us all to understand the opportunity for a new beginning. 

The Young King rehearsal photo3. What will it be like to perform The Young King at The New Victory Theater?

We are very excited by the possibilities of performing at the beautiful New Vic—a wonderful castle in its own right! The architectural structure of The New Victory Theater—with its central aisle and on-stage seating—really allows us to bring the story right to the people of the kingdom (our audience). In collaboration with the clever and patient staff at The New Victory, we have also mapped out some amazing pathways to travel throughout the theater. These are all ways to put the audience inside the frame of the story.

4. If Oscar Wilde were to step into a time machine and travel to 2017, what do you think he would say/quip?

I wouldn't dare venture to ascribe words to the mouth of the brilliant Oscar Wilde, however, here is a selection of pithy prose that many seasons ago did fall from his pen:
 
"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."

And 

"Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."
 

Andy Packer
Since completing a BA of Theater Studies at Adelaide University in 1992, Andy's arts career has encompassed many roles including creative producer, ensemble actor, creator and festival director. In 2007, Andy co-founded Slingsby Theater Company as Artistic Director alongside Jodi Glass. In addition to Slingsby, Andy has built a freelance career as a director of opera, musical theater, cabaret and concerts. Most recently Andy directed Vigil, written by Steve Vizard and Joe Chindamo and starring Christie Whelan-Browne for Adelaide Cabaret Festival 2017. Andy has directed for State Theater Company of South Australia, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, State Opera of South Australia, Adelaide Fringe, Adelaide Festival of Arts and Adelaide Chamber Singers. Andy is respected nationally and internationally for creating moments of emotional truth in both intimate one-hander productions and in large operatic and orchestral works, for child, family and adult audiences. In January 2016 Andy became the first Australian to join the Board of Management of IPAY (International Performing Arts for Youth). Andy and his wife Jane love living in Adelaide with their three school-age sons and retired greyhound.

 
Posted by Beth Henderson

Flo Wolston stands out for her glamour and poise, but behind the perfectly done makeup, she is a veritable treasure trove of New York City history. During the 1930s, she saw the rise and inevitable fall of Minsky's Republic. Does that name sounds familiar? Before it became The New Victory Theater, the theater had many names.

In the 1930s, Billy Minsky opened Broadway's first burlesque club, naming our beloved theater Minsky's Republic. The theater facade featured a bold checkerboard pattern with the faces of Minsky's biggest stars, including Gypsy Rose Lee. Inside, black-tie attire was strictly required. Doormen were dressed as French cavalrymen, and the female ushers wore French maid costumes and squirted perfume on patrons as they entered. And famously, down the center of the orchestra, was a double runway that put Minksy's showgirls, including Ms. Wolston, as close to the patrons as possible. 

As she celebrates her 100th birthday on Friday, August 25, we look back with her to a time of a jazz-filled Midtown, after-hours clubs with Liberace, and the perfect corned beef sandwich on rye. Start up a playlist of days long gone and wish Flo a happy birthday with us, here at The New Victory Theater!

Flo on the Marquee!
 
Flo in her 20s
What is the biggest way New York has changed since your time as a Minsky's dancer?
There are less delis, no booking agents and too many big syndicates to count. TV has really changed live entertainment. For instance, there used to be a bunch of small jazz clubs on 52nd St. Now, you can only find large venues in Midtown. 

What was your favorite song to perform to? 
My favorite artist back then was Robert Alda, and I always looked forward to dancing to "Stairway To The Stars" and "Stay In My Arms Cinderella." 

Was 42nd Street as crowded and busy in the 1930s as it is today?
Yes, 42nd St was always this busy. It hasn't changed. I love seeing the theater still in use!

How did the Great Depression affect Minsky's Republic?
The Great Depression didn't affect Minsky's at all. Back then, tickets were only 35 cents, 50 cents and $1.

Minsky's BurlesqueDid you ever meet any celebrities?
I didn't meet any celebrities at Minksy's. But after it closed I worked with Jackie Gleason at La Conga and met actor Ray Milland and his wife. At the after-hours club Spivey's Roof, I became friends with Liberace who you could find playing the piano there most nights. 

Where are you from? What did your family say when you moved here and started performing at Minsky's?
I was born in Philly and moved to NYC when I was four-years-old. I earned $50 a week (about $900 today), so my family didn't mind that I worked at Minksy's at all. In fact, my dad would stop backstage to visit me, and my uncle would even catch a show from time to time. 

What was your favorite place to eat while you worked on 42nd Street? Is it still there?
My favorite place to eat was at the Stage Door Deli on 47th Street near the Gaiety Theater. It's no longer there, but I always used to get a corned beef sandwich with mustard on rye.

What was your audience like? 
Audience members at that time were mostly men. People assume that the audience was wild but, in fact, you couldn't be rowdy or you'd be thrown out immediately. It was all very well controlled. 

Flo WolstonHow was the experience of attending a show different in the 30s compared to today?
Well, the prices today are ridiculous. Also, I miss seeing tap dancing and toe dancing (pointe). You don't see that in most shows anymore. 

What was your reaction to Mayor LaGuardia shutting down Minsky's? Do you think it was the right call?
I was in disbelief when Mayor LaGuardia shut down Minsky's. Absolutely devastated. It took away a steady paycheck, which was not a good time for us performers. Looking at all of the risque entertainment that exists today, I can honestly say it never should have closed.

Tell us about your favorite costume! 
I didn't have a favorite costume. We just wore sparkly underwear!
 
 
The New Victory Theater Discover more about the history of The New Victory Theater here!

 

Posted by Beth Henderson
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