Sunday, 31 July 2016

Mermalade Dramaturgy: Laura Stevens @ Edfringe 2016

Manhattan Children’s Theatre presents
World premiere

Based on the children’s book by Clare Cockburn-Martin
Illustrated by Anna Welsh
Directed and adapted for the stage by Laura Stevens

A Little Mermaid she is not.
A fast paced, interactive comedy. A universal quest. A play for all ages.

Left with a cryptic note, a pearl, and three annoying oysters for company, MERMALADE is determined to make sense of it all. She’s brave enough to approach the biggest forces in the universe. She’s strong enough to confront those that get in her way. But is she wise enough to find her answer?  

Add three life size Oysters as narrators, cameos from the Moon, Sun, Stars, Thor (God of Thunder), a beach setting, a splattering of pop music and one strong-willed 11-year-old girl that never quits and what do you get?

Pleasance Courtyard (Beneath) 
3-29 August at 11.15am 
60 minutes
Suitable for children 3+

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I was inspired to write a play for young audiences after reading a children’s book called Mermalade.


I had recently moved with my family to Edinburgh from NYC, where I co-founded Manhattan Children’s Theatre, a non-profit organization with a mission of providing affordable, high quality theatrical entertainment to children and families of the community.

For almost a decade, we served over 250,000 audience members with productions for young audiences based upon both classical and contemporary literature.

I had the extraordinary privilege of building a company, watching it grow, creating relationships with schools, teachers, families and community organizations, developing new work, working with hundreds of talented artists as well as directing many of the productions.

Needless to say it was a huge loss for me having to leave it. 

My heart had no choice but to carry on with MCT’s mission here in Edinburgh.

I produced and directed one of our shows, THE LAST OF THE DRAGONS in 2015 at the Fringe – Pleasance Courtyard - using all local talent and received solid critical acclaim. 


After reading the book, I found myself drawn to and relating with the heroine, Mermalade:  A girl looking for an answer and asking the biggest entities in the universe for help.

She was brave enough to ask WHY to anyone she thought could help her.  She had a difficult journey.  She didn’t give up.

I needed answers in my life too. I was close to giving up.


I knew I had to figure out a way to continue directing and producing live theatre in this new country.  I never thought I’d write a script, that is, until I met Mermalade.

I read the book to my 11year-old son, then found myself asking him to re-enact a scene between Mermalade and one of the other characters, Thor, the GOD of thunder.

I had him hold his nerf gun while standing on his bed, then I told him to shoot at me when I signalled to him as I was reading.

THOR: (shoots nerf bullet)
THOR: (shoots nerf bullet)
MERM: OWWWW!  Stop that!
THOR: (shoots a few nerf bullets)
MERM: OW. OW. OW. OW. OWWWWWW!  What’s your problem?
THOR: What’s my problem?  What’s YOUR problem?

In those few moments, an idea for a script found me. 

Note: I am not using nerf guns in the performance!

MERMELADE, the play, is a fast paced, interactive comedy suitable for all ages.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

The “google” strategy. 

Moving to a new country, I had to start from the beginning. 

IN NYC, with Manhattan Children’s Theatre, I went through the challenges of building and managing the organization from both an artistic and fiscal standpoint, after a few years I had a solid network of support and strong relationships throughout the community.

Here in Edinburgh, it’s taken a while, but I believe I have the beginnings of a solid network of industry professionals.

I was fortunate enough to find Infinity Artists in 2015.  The owner, Susie Dumbreck was extraordinarily helpful with identifying and casting The Last of the Dragons, as well as mentoring me throughout the process.

Since then, I have been fortunate enough to identify and connect with brilliant, local talent.

How did you become interested in making performance?

When I realized I couldn’t act!

While I spent many of my younger years taking part in community youth/amateur theatre productions, I always thought of it as a hobby, not a career.

I went to university, graduating with a B.A in journalism.  My first job was in a tiny town called Jacksonville, Illinois where I wrote for the local paper.  I was “promoted” to a larger paper in Cleveland, Ohio.

I was making $22,000 a year.

While in Cleveland, I was approached to be a spokesperson for Toyota commercials. I auditioned, got the job.

It paid $600 an hour. 

I moved to NYC to become FAMOUS then quickly found out I COULD NOT ACT.  However, I did get the opportunity to direct a few shows.  I found out I COULD DIRECT and I loved it.  This led to being a co- founder of 2 Theatre Companies. (Vital Theatre & Manhattan Children’s Theatre)

My passion for producing and directing live theatre exists to this day. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?


I no longer had a network or the relationships created with MCT in NYC. At 46 years old, in a new country, I found myself feeling like I was walking into the first day of primary school. SCARY AS SHIT!

What are the OTHER THEATRES DOING GREAT WORK for young audiences?
What are the overall COSTS of producing theatre here without a company?  
How do I identify funding and sponsors?
Will people here care about my art?

I’m still trying to answer most of the questions listed above, but I figured enough out to put together an extraordinary artistic team. 

I’ve spent many moments HATING having to re-create my “typical process” of making a performance.  I continually have to remind myself that LIFE is like LIVE THEATRE – nothing is ever exactly the same from one performance/day to the next.  I’ll work it out.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

(MERMALADE is a 50 minute show)

50 minutes of intrigue, wonder and the need to know what happens next.
25-30 minutes of laughter
15-20 minutes agreeing or disagreeing with one or more of the characters within the story
A lifetime of feeling that they are not alone in this world and to have the urge to always ask WHY?

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I was fortunate enough to work and produce with The Pleasance for my 2015 production of THE LAST OF THE DRAGONS.  This opportunity has been crucial to my marketing, publicity, operational efforts and STRATEGY for my production of MERMALADE this year. 

Through this network, I was introduced to The Corner Shop, Out of Hand Marketing, as well as various other TYA groups.

All of these elements assisted me with creating a strategy for the AUDIENCE EXPERIENCE:

KNOWLEDGE OF THE VENUE – both the theatre and the outdoor space

KNOWLEDGE DIRECT MARKETING POTENTIAL – where do I put my money? (promotional give-aways? Ground team force?)

KNOWLEDGE OF PRODUCTION ABILITIES AND LIMITIATIONS – how will the performers & design elements work best in the space to engage the audience?

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

I’d characterize my work for young audiences on the stage – both as a director and as a writer - as a “SITCOM for the STAGE.”

I am quite certain this characterization cannot be considered a TRADITION, rather a stereotype of American TV:

Quick and consistent comedic dialogue with immediate audience response response (aka laugh track).

While somewhat similar, my work is not “PANTO”. 

The characters within the tale are real.  They each have a reason of being, with recognizable faults and redeemable qualities, discovered and challenged while telling the story.  The comedy exists strictly through the dialogue vs. the comedy of “stock” characters.

A subtle and challenging difference.

I love this challenge, just as I loved and still love US sitcoms. 

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I completely connected with one or more of the “FRIENDS” as they went through life.  I still find myself tearing up at the end of a “Modern Family”.  These characters struck a chord with me.  Somehow they made me feel I wasn’t alone.  I wasn’t the only one feeling what I was feeling. Through it all though, I laughed.  Often. I felt lighter and happier after watching them.

I TRULY HOPE THE PERFORMANCE OF MERMALDE makes the audience feel the same.

Unlike traditional fairy tales, MERMALADE’s story holds no moral decree. In the Socratic Spirit, the show offers more questions than answers with WHY? being at the top of the list. 

Why does everyone tell me what to do and feel? 
Why is a pearl so special?
Why do I have to keep asking “WHY?”

Laura Stevens, who recently moved to Edinburgh from her native New York, co-founded Manhattan Children’s Theatre in 2002 and directed over 30 plays since, including theatrical productions for very young audiences (Little Tales, based on folk tales from around the world). Between 2002 and 2011, MCT welcomed over 250,000 audience members through its doors. Laura’s production of The Last of the Dragons debuted at Fringe in 2015 to rave reviews and toured to Biggar in Scotland and Warsaw in Poland to sold-out audiences.   

Now Scotland-based, the mission of Manhattan Children’s Theatre is one of providing affordable, high quality theatre entertainment to audiences in Scotland, children in particular.  

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