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              Virtual still of she persisted, the musical with the main character holding a lantern

              Kids Culture

              She Persisted, The Musical

              When the Atlantic Theater Company’s New York premiere of "She Peristed, The Musical" (based on the children’s book by Chelsea Clinton) had its run cut short due to the pandemic, they found a way to create a virtual production that celebrates resilience and perseverance in a time when kids need it more than ever. In advance of the end of the show’s virtual run—it can be streamed online through January 21—we caught up with Alison Beatty, Artistic Director of Atlantic for Kids and the show’s producer, about the power of storytelling, the logistics of taking a theatrical production online and what parents can do to encourage their children’s creativity during a pandemic.
              Photography
              Ahron R. Foster

              What can you tell us about the process of adapting a book for the stage and then a stage production to a virtual production? Where does one begin?

              Simple, truthful and playful storytelling is at the core of everything Atlantic for Kids does and really guides our approach whether the story is on the page, the stage or the screen.

              The fabulous writing team, Adam Tobin and Debra Wicks La Puma, should really be credited for creating the musical from the book. It is so crucial that kids see versions of themselves on stage, which is why choosing Naomi as the heroine of “She Persisted, The Musical” was such a brilliant way to invite kids into the theatrical version of the story. Naomi (who is not a character in the book) is a kid like any other, dealing with insecurity, self-doubt and fear as she navigates the fourth grade. Naomi’s journey successfully mirrors the experience I imagine Chelsea and Alexandra hoped their readers would have as they are introduced to all of the amazing women featured in the book. What is really beautiful about adapting kids’ books, in particular, for the stage is that the process takes a very intimate experience between parents and kids at bedtime or teachers and students at storytime and opens it up so it becomes a larger community experience. Now, we recognize more than ever the power and importance of that connection.

              When we decided to create a “virtual production,” there really was no roadmap! Everything we know about a theatrical production process was inverted, turned inside out, and totally upended. It was all new and foreign, just like the world we have been living in since last March. We made up the rules as we went along, borrowing from theater, and film, and animation but ultimately inventing a new way to tell a story!

              What inspired you to create a virtual version of “She Persisted, The Musical?”

              Last spring we produced the New York premiere and our run was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But against all odds, WE persisted and found a way to create a show for our current times and a way to engage our community and a larger national audience. The message of the show, which celebrates resilience and encourages kids to face adversity with bravery, grace, hope and perseverance, resonates more loudly than ever. It is a positive, joyful and energizing message; one that kids and their grown-ups are hungry for right now.

              still from She Persistedstill from She Persisted

              The production was filmed in New York, California, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania…can you speak to the logistical challenges?

              It was totally wild! I would say the days were full of one surprise after another!

              Our cast and creative team were spread out all over the country and of course, safety was our number one priority so we decided to pre-record the show remotely. We shipped the actors their costumes, props and a kit of equipment that included microphones, lights and green screens. Each actor filmed themselves on an iPhone, often from their own homes, and uploaded vocal tracks and footage to be mixed and edited together. Everyone was outside of their comfort zone, to say the least, and there was a huge learning curve.

              We used Zoom as our “rehearsal room” but were otherwise never together. Not only was it tricky to troubleshoot the inevitable technology issues that arose, but it was creatively challenging to be “distanced.” So much of the magic of theater is born out of throwing a bunch of artists in a room together and seeing what emerges. So striving to create a space for discovery and collaboration while executing a cohesive vision was perhaps the most challenging part of the process.

              The show introduces inspirational women throughout history. From being brave like Ruby Bridges, to achieving your own personal best like Florence Griffith Joyner, there are so many wonderful lessons for girls to take-away. What do you hope they remember above all?

              Naomi learns to replace perfectionism with persistence during the course of the show and I wish that for all the kids watching. I hope young girls remember they are not alone. That these exceptional women have paved the way for them, just as they will pave the way for those that follow. And I hope kids remember that their own role models were once kids, too.

              Finally, what advice do you have for parents looking to help their children explore the dramatic arts during this time?

              Focus on encouraging kids to use this time to explore their creative selves. Try lots of different things; don't feel boxed in by your previous set of activities. Atlantic has a wide variety of online classes (for kids age s 4-18) from musical theater to sketch, improv, scene study, film/TV, and much more. This is the time to broaden your child's creative horizons—engage their imaginations and curiosity—and have lots of fun along the way.