Review Fix Exclusive: Inside ‘Old Turtle and the Broken Truth’

Review Fix chats with Sarah Sutliff, Director/Choreographer, “Old Turtle and the Broken Truth”
Artistic Director, Rebel Playhouse to find out what inspired the production and who will enjoy it the most.

About The Production:

Old Turtle and the Broken Truth was written by author Douglas Wood as a sequel to his first book, Old Turtle, which was hailed as an “instant classic.” The story of the sequel features a young girl as the protagonist who ends up saving an entire village through her own initiative. We’re thinking of it as an “anti-fairytale,” a girl who saves herself. It’s an important story with an amazing role model for kids (and adults!) as a protagonist.

Theaterworks composer Dax Dupuy has created beautiful music to compliment a book by Catherine Bush. The cast features seasoned NY actors who have performed in Doomocracy, That Golden Girls Show, and for Theaterworks.

Review Fix: What inspired the creation of this play?

Sarah Sutliff: The original stage adaptation was written by Rebel Playhouse resident composer Dax Dupuy and her writing partner Catherine Bush for the The Barter Theatre as a gift to Katy Brown, the Artistic Director of The Barter Players. In addition to being a multiple award winning children’s book, “Old Turtle and the Broken Truth” written by Douglas Wood was also Ms. Brown’s personal favorite. The piece made it’s world premiere in the summer of 2015.

When I was in the process of selecting what show to present as our inaugural production, I knew we wanted a musical, and I knew we wanted a piece that could be cast in a multitude of ways (no necessary age, race, or gender for specific characters). Back in February of 2015 I was asked to assist Ms. Dupuy in recording demo tracks of an in-progress “Old Turtle…” for the Barter Players. I had loved the music and story then, and it immediately sprang into my mind due to both it’s timely message of learning to embrace those different to you, as well as encouraging sharing and communication across widely different communities. When I approached Dax and asked if Rebels could give the piece it’s NYC premiere not only was she game, but she also offered to musically direct for us!

Review Fix: What separates the talking animals in this production from all of the other talking animal plays and books?

Sutliff: I think that often when productions try to incorporate talking animals, they lean into their personification. The fact that they are animals becomes secondary to the very human story and journey of those animal-identified characters. In “Old Turtle and the Broken Truth” we took great pains to ensure that there was a middle ground, that our actors playing animals fully embodied the animal movements, actions and habitual behaviors that make up these critters’ physical vocabulary. Although the animals do speak in English understandable to our New York City audiences, that is not how they are heard in the context of the play. The audience is given universal translation of all characters, both human and animal, in order to gain access to their stories and emotional lives. It is suggested in the play that they are, in fact, speaking in different languages, and are understandable only to each other and Little One, our child protagonist.

Review Fix: How will adults that attend connect with the show?

Sutliff: We are actually pushing our show not in the context of “children’s theatre” or “theatre for young audiences,” but as “theatre for all audiences.” We are trying to move past the idea that theatre needs to be specifically molded to be appropriate or appealing to children and thus, not to adults. What “Old Turtle…” offers is a very human story centered around the idea of misunderstanding and miscommunication between differing racial and social groups. It presents a world at odds due to ego centrism and nationalism at the brink of destruction and forced to contend with its problems in a very real and immediate way. It is a universal and timely message, this notion of a Broken Truth maintained through lack of understanding and cooperation.

Review Fix: How would this be considered an “anti-fairytale”?

Sutliff: I don’t know if I would consider it exactly an anti-fairytale. Fairytales come from a centuries old, oral tradition intended to impart wisdom and to entertain! It is only when The Brothers Grimm (and others) began to collect these tales and commit them to writing that they took on their static, highly morally instructive and socially tied forms. “Old Turtle…” was adapted to the stage in a format of storytelling, which I feel is a nod to those original fairytale traditions. Our animals serve as the narrators, imparting wisdom not only on their young pupil (Little One), but also on our undeniably human audiences. Perhaps one could argue that our aversion to dancing princesses and and beautiful dresses intended to win over princes makes our story an “anti-fairytale,” but I would argue that any of these universally resonant tales arise out of the same themes and traditions.

Review Fix: In what ways is the young girl a role model for adults?

Sutliff: I think we as adults can learn a lot from children. They are emotionally open and expressive, they have a great sense of compassion, and their curiosity and wonder drives them. Little One is a girl with a passion to learn and explore the world around her. When confronted with great corruption and tragedy which threatens that world, she takes it upon herself to ask for help and strive to fix it. In many ways Little One is an activist, defending those things which she holds most dear. She puts the good of the whole above her own fears and misgivings.

Review Fix: Why was the decision made to make the sequel a play and not the first, if the first was an instant classic?

Sutliff: Douglas Wood’s first book “Old Turtle” published in 1992 was actually not a direct prequel to our “Old Turtle and the Broken Truth,” but more of a creation myth. The book, published as a children’s book, was initially considered quite heady and abstract for youth audiences and was felt to be more appropriate for adults.

“Old Turtle and the Broken Truth,” published in 1993 was more of a narrative story, and also received much literary praise. The idea of a strong, young female protagonist as well as the structure of a hero’s journey made this the logical choice for stage adaptation.

Review Fix: Are there any future plans for more books to become plays with Rebel Playhouse?

Sutliff: As a brand new company (we only founded in fall of 2016) we don’t have the fiscal resources at this time to commission a work based off a successful children’s book… but yes, this is certainly a long term goal! I already have my Artistic Director dream project, but that will have to remain a secret for now! Let’s just say, the seed has been planted.

Review Fix: What are your goals for this project?

Sutliff: As our first production, our main goal was to put up a high quality product that logistically and thematically aligns with our mission to get our name out there. We also wanted to identify artists and performers who felt as passionately about elevating children’s theatre and challenging typical expectations of what that type of work can be. Of course the dream would be to get funding to tour “Old Turtle and the Broken Truth” around the country, but if all we get out of this run is happy audiences and devoted future patrons, we are satisfied.

Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy it the most?

Sutliff: I genuinely believe there is something in this production for everyone. Gorgeous music, moments of play and levity, and of course a heartfelt plot presented in an honest and grounded way. Through our run we have had satisfied audiences members from 6 to 60, and that was precisely what we hoped for.  The action, movement and dreamy visuals appeal to children, and the emotionally riveting plot draws in our adults in the crowd.

Review Fix: What makes the Rebel Playhouse special?

Sutliff: I think what makes us the most special is our dedication to not “dumbing ourselves down” to appeal to children. Kids are smarter and more perceptive than we give them credit for. We can present thematically deep works that challenge social norms in a way that is entertaining as well as intellectually stimulating. We are hoping to create a new generation of conscious and engaged audiences and artists who aren’t afraid to demand the best and most honest arts to explore and represent the world we live in.

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