Creators of the Pout-Pout Fish
Oh my blub–it’s the start of the 2019-20 season! We sat down with the creators of The Pout-Pout Fish, Christopher Anselmo and Jared Corak, to give you a deep dive on the creation of this brand new musical based on the best-selling children’s book series.
But first, check out Christopher and Jared’s best #PoutPoutFaces!
What first inspired you to adapt The Pout-Pout Fish series?
When we first began working with TheaterWorksUSA on The Pout-Pout Fish, we quickly realized that music was already splashing up off the page. Deborah Diesen’s playful rhyming couplets read like the lyrics of a classic song, while Dan Hannah’s colorful aquatic illustrations invoke the sounds of intertwining guitars and blaring trumpets. We could immediately hear what this world sounded like, and from there we just had to figure out what the characters would sing about!
What was the trickiest thing about adapting the material? The easiest?
The trickiest thing about adapting this material was how to portray our pouty protagonist. If we made Pout-Pout too sad and inactive, the story really struggled to gain momentum, but if we made Pout-Pout too active and eager to go on an adventure, it became really hard to show him grow and change throughout the journey. It was important to find a balance in his character—there was more than one side to his decisions, and that always had to play an integral role in his journey.
How was it working with your fellow New Victory LabWorks alumni? Did you know each other before?
We did know each other! One of our first outings as New Victory LabWorks Artists was to take a tour of AchesonWalsh’s studio. There were incredible works in progress including beautifully handcrafted marionettes and other eclectic puppets hanging all over their space, and we remember saying to each other, “We need to work with these guys someday.” And that chance came sooner than anticipated! From the very beginning of the Pout-Pout process, it has been an open and fun collaboration and we’ve all been able to share ideas freely. Although we are not puppet experts, they have listened to our wild (and sometimes impossible) suggestions, and we have all worked together to craft a story that is meaningful to us.
How did you create such a cheerful musical about such a sad fish?
There is a connotation of “happiness” and “joy” that is so integral to the genres of music associated with the ocean. The joyful twang of surf rock guitar, the dreamy harmonies of The Beach Boys, the laid-back lyrics of Jimmy Buffet. Like so many other things in his world, the music of the ocean is constantly at odds with Pout-Pout’s outlook on life. Our goal in crafting this story was to bring Pout-Pout out of the comfort of his reef and encourage him to find the confidence to engage with the vibrant musical world around him. Hopefully, by the end of his journey, he’ll be singing a different tune.
How do you think this musical connects Pout-Pout’s sadness to mental health issues in the real world?
We love how Pout-Pout as a character captures what it’s like to feel sad in a surprisingly truthful way for young audiences because sometimes sadness is unavoidable and can feel like that’s all you’ll ever be. And sometimes the ways in which we view ourselves affect the way in which we view the world around us. We wanted to make sure that we were approaching his sadness with delicacy, in a way that mirrors how great sadness can sometimes feel in real life. Above all, we wanted to show a character who learns that it’s okay to be sad, and that sadness does not define you.
We also took extra care with the way the other characters spoke to him about his sadness, which ranges from the oft well-intended, but sometimes unhelpful “cheer up” to one of our favorites songs in the show, “Stay Afloat.” That song explores the idea that all these highs and lows are part of what makes like such an adventure, and that if we don’t give up, we will stay afloat. We hope that, through Pout-Pout’s journey, he encounters a number of perspectives on what happiness looks like, and by the end, can make a decision about what happiness looks like to him.
What do you want kids and adults to take away from your musical?
That it is ok to feel sad sometimes, and that happiness looks different to everyone. One person’s idea of happiness may not fit your own needs, and that’s perfectly fine! Happiness is a journey and a process, and, much like Pout-Pout, you may feel lost before you find what happiness looks like to you. But no matter how you feel, you are going to stay afloat.
Which song from The Pout-Pout Fish gets stuck in your head the most?
One of the first songs we wrote for the show was the title song, “Mr. Pout-Pout Fish,” and it has been stuck in our heads ever since!