This week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with my 11-year-old son to answer his questions about the brand-new play I wrote for families. I got to reflect on this delightful show and talk about why children’s theater really meets the moment.
Nathaniel: So, Mom, you’ve written a new play for kids, tell us about it.
Jocelyn: I did! It is called Little Red and the Forest of Feelings. It is a new take on that classic tale, Little Red Riding Hood, but it’s pretty timely too. I wanted to write a play about intergenerational love that would also empower young people to connect with their emotions – even the big and scary ones! We are debuting it at the Brooklyn Heights Public Library where it is free for the community. (Folks can reserve tickets here.)
Nathaniel: How is this story different from the regular Little Red Riding Hood?
Jocelyn: Well, it is very playful and mischievous. There’s some great stage combat – like Grandma definitely knows how to fight! Also, there are these interactive game moments that keep the audience engaged. Ultimately, though, I used the fairy tale to relay another kind of message: that feelings are just amazing and we shouldn’t be afraid of them!
So, in my version, the Wolf really doesn’t like emotions and, in addition to Little Red and Grandma, he also eats all the feelings in the forest! Red and Grandma are the heroes, of course, and they play some funny tricks on the Wolf. He’s ultimately able to get those feelings back into the world.
Nathaniel: You mean he barfs them up?
Jocelyn: No spoilers…you’ll have to see it for yourself.
Nathaniel: Why do you always write plays based on fairy tales?
Jocelyn: I love that you say “always” since there’s only one other play I wrote based on a fairy tale! But anyway, I think they are wonderfully timeless, and I get to put my stamp on them. Also, they are a great canvas for some of my favorite games that we do at Child’s Play NY! I love Little Red Riding Hood specifically: I think I was her for Halloween for like three years in a row! And of course, I knew Into the Woods like the back of my hand as a kid, and have directed it for Child’s Play NY productions!
But this version is different, of course. It gets to the heart of why I think that kids can benefit from doing and seeing theater: It is all about accessing empathy, big feelings, and ultimately joy. It’s a very playful look at the fairy tale, but I hope the message is strong.
Nathaniel: Why is this a good play for families to go to?
Jocelyn: Well, as you know, there’s some very painful and scary news in the world right now. As parents, we can certainly be there to share some information and answer questions. But I hope this play gives definitive permission, and a space, for kids to feel safe expressing their emotions. We see – comedically with the Wolf – what happens when you don’t let things in or out, and you hold stuff inside. (spoiler again: it’s not good!) So, I hope that when kids are watching the show with their family, there’s a sense of relief, like “Oh! I’m allowed to feel these big things – and it is better if I do.” Also, I think this play gives parents some tools to help that expression along.
Nathaniel: Why should people even go to the theater?
Jocelyn: You know, we live in such a “phone-y” culture (no pun intended!) with everyone kinda buried in those screens. I think that can tend to cut us off from others and what’s going on inside. So, the amazing part about when we come to see a play, is that we are in an immediate community with others. Something live and alive is happening right before our very eyes! We are laughing together, rooting for our heroes, feeling shocked, as a group. Watching theater with your family, friends or even strangers is SO bonding. Scientists say that when we feel empathy toward others it releases oxytocin – which is an amazing feel-good chemical – and makes us even kinder toward others! I love that theater can do that. It takes us out of that narrow focus of “me and my own stuff” and broadens our metaphorical peripheral vision!
There’s even this study that I love sharing, where scientists put heart monitors on some people in an audience watching a play, and as the show went on, guess what happened?
Nathaniel: What happened?
Jocelyn: The audience’s hearts started beating at the same time!
Nathaniel: Wow. That’s so cool. Ok. Tell me more about the characters in Little Red and the Forest of Feelings! Who is in the show?
Jocelyn: Well, we have Narrator, Little Red, Grandma, and the Wolf. These are all played by extraordinary Child’s Play NY teaching artists who are super-talented performers and truly understand how to tell a story too. But those characters are essentially archetypes – so it was fun to mess with those expectations a little as a writer and director.
For instance, you might not think of Grandma as so tough, but in our show, she does amazing stage combat! Also, in my version, Red has the joyful enthusiasm of a very active 7-year-old kid. But during the play, her enthusiasm often gets the better of her. So, with the help of the Narrator, she learns a playful way to self-regulate (that families can try with their own kids). The Wolf, of course, goes on the biggest journey. I do love a strong villain. Because that’s the crux of great drama right? Conflict! That said, it is important for our kid audience, that they not be too frightened of the “bad guy”. So, our Wolf has a goofiness and ultimately a willingness to evolve that helps make him very lovable.
Nathaniel: I remember in your version of Jack and the Beanstalk, the audience played some of the classic Child’s Play NY games during the show. Does that happen in Little Red and the Rainbow Forest?
Jocelyn: You bet! So, baked into the script are these open-ended moments of dramatic play where we ask the audience to join in to help our heroes on their quest! This is classic Child’s Play NY, right? The kind of things we do in classes and parties all the time. Like, “We are on a mission but need your bravery and imagination to make it work.” For example, during the show, we do a riff on Red Light Green Light and we make it even more animal-inspired.
As you know, I’m a big fan of animal games. Certainly, it helps that one of our characters IS an animal and that the play takes place in the forest – it’s not that big of a leap for kids to join us in that animal realm.
Nathaniel: What ages is this play good for?
Jocelyn: I would say it’s great for families and kids ages 3-9. We keep it interactive, with the games, and even chants. For instance, many kids know the classic book/chant: Going on a Bear Hunt, which we use in our youngest of classes. Well, in the play, we turn it into “Going on a Feelings Hunt.” Not only can the kids jump into the call-and-response part of things, but they also can make great suggestions of emotions that we act out!
Nathaniel: What happens after the play?
Jocelyn: Good question! After the play is a very fun Q+A with the characters. Like, they stay in character and the kids get to ask them about what motivates them, why they did what they did, and about their backstory. I love facilitating that since it is so fun to hear what our audience is curious about. But, since this is our first performance ever, I’m not sure what they’ll ask. The teachers improvise their answers of course. If I had to guess, kids would want to ask the Wolf why he didn’t like feelings and why wanted to eat them all! They are smart.
Nathaniel: What if I can’t come to the show, but I want to see it?
Jocelyn; Well, I know YOU can come. But if other people can’t, they can reach out about bringing it to their school for a performance. It’s amazing for elementary school students and gives that social-emotional learning support for classroom teachers too. I even have a supplemental classroom guide for schools who choose to have us perform it for their students that helps facilitate the games and extends the conversation about feelings. We might end up doing something for our YouTube channel, like an interactive show, so people can also subscribe to that to make sure they don’t miss it!
Nathaniel: So, how can people see the show, again?
Jocelyn: Families can register to see it on the Library events page. It is free, but space is limited. The show is at the Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Heights Branch, 286 Cadman Plaza West on Saturday, October 21st at 3:30. The whole thing – with the Q+A – lasts about 45 minutes. I can’t wait to share it with our community!
The cast and crew of Little Red and the Forest of Feelings after rehearsal!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jocelyn Greene is the Founder and Executive Director of Child’s Play NY, an award-winning theater education company based in New York. She and her team of professional actors run classes, residencies, camps, birthday parties, and social and emotional learning-aligned workshops. In addition, she partners with dozens of schools to bring ELA and Social-Studies programming to life through the theater and use the dramatic arts for professional development training. To work with Jocelyn in your school, schedule a free consultation here.