Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Evolution of a Limecat

The Tortoise & the Hare Make a Holiday Wish

How does a theater company that produces some of the best Horror productions in Los Angeles one day decide to present original children’s shows? You might be surprised. Director and writer Denise Devin talks about the humble beginnings of the Limecat Family Theatre and gives us the scoop on their latest holiday production, The Tortoise & the Hare Make a Holiday Wish, opening December 2nd. 

Denise, I know you love the Limecat shows. Did you ever worry in the beginning that parents wouldn’t understand that these were family musicals and nothing like ZJU’s signature Horror shows?

DD: For years, we kept the name Zombie Joe’s Underground away from the Limecat, so that we wouldn’t scare the parents or the kids. But now everyone is familiar with our work and they know how very different our Limecat shows and Horror shows are. Go figure, we are the experimental Horror theater with a very cute family theater banner! Our kid’s shows are dear to our hearts and a true labor of love. The wild and crazy ZJU crew grew really fond of the Limecat and we found that parents made reservations the moment we sent them the flyer.

How did Limecat first begin?
The Princess and the Frog

DD: The Limecat started as an experiment about 8 or 9 years ago. A few of us were sitting around and someone said, “We should do a kid’s show!” I was the Education Director for Diavolo Dance Theater for a couple of years, and others had similar backgrounds with educational theatre. I actually did not go further with the idea, but a few of our core members took up the idea and we presented
Chicken Little. It was not in the format that exists now - we didn’t create a newer version of the tale, and the music wasn’t original. But our scenic artist, Jeri Batzdorff, painted a beautiful wall mural on the back wall, and the cast pitched in and stepped up just like any of our other shows and the kids loved it. So...Limecat was born. We fell in love with the kids’ energy and enthusiasm and now, ten original musicals later, we couldn’t be happier.

Do you have a separate production staff for the shows?

DD: Zombie and I stepped in to lead the company and Jeri joined us providing amazing backdrops and specialty costumes. In the beginning we were using original lyrics but not music. Then, one day, composer/lyricist Chris Reiner said he would be interested in joining us, and the final Lead Directorship of the Limecat was formed.

Where do you get your ideas for the Limecat shows?

DD: The bulk of our musicals are original concepts taken from well-known stories or fables, with original (or at least 80% original) music and lyrics by Chris. We keep the main lesson or theme, and kernel of the story, and re-write everything else. I pick a fable or story idea that might be good or sometimes we come up with an original story idea. Then Zombie and I brainstorm some characters, situations, what the lesson might be, and then I sit down and write it. In the beginning, I also wrote some of the lyrics, but after a musical or two, Chris took over that department. I was relieved and thrilled.

Once you have the idea, what comes next?

DD: Chris, Zombie and I would meet over a first draft, and talk about music, tempos, and the main thrust for lyrics so that they could forward the story. Then I’d go away again and write it out. At the same time I would inform Jeri of the different characters, costume needs and backdrop. She really gets to shine here and she goes all out. Some of her pieces are works of art, literally, and we never want to paint over her colorful backdrops.

It sounds like you put together a well-balanced team.

DD: The four of us always got along great, which was another blessing on the Limecat. I don't think I've ever been in any other partnership that was so successful. We were all busy, so everyone really focused on their part of the whole, and it all came together.

How did you come up with the name Limecat?
The Princess and the Frog

DD: It just kind of came to us. The walls at ZJU used to be lime green (I kind of miss them) and I always loved cats. One day Zombie came home and said “Limecat” and I thought, perfect. Jeri drew up the logo on a sheet of paper, we scanned it in, and have been using it ever since.

What can parents expect when they bring their family to see a Limecat musical?

DD: We don't talk down to the kids. We want them to feel truly entertained, and in a way that doesn't make them feel less than or not as important as adult theater. The stories must contain enough adult humor to keep the parents engaged. When I say adult, I mean very kid friendly adult, with a little bit of double meanings attached. It has been important that the Limecat be entertaining to all who come, even though geared to young ones. And there is always a lesson that is the heart of the story.

You do something else that's unique with the Limecat shows too, don’t you?
The Goldfish Twins
DD: Yes, I introduced the concept of a “stretch” break, or audience interaction, with the very first show. The idea has become a main signature of our Limecat productions and we now often build the stretch breaks into the story. They help the actors, kids, and parents, engage, stand up, and become part of the action. Even though the shows are only 50 minutes or so, it is a long time for a young person to sit. The stretch breaks are a lot of fun and provide a good, safe Photo Op for the parents too.

What age children can families bring to the shows?

DD: The Limecat shows are for all ages with the primary audience being 3 or 4 to 10, although it can change depending on the show. Our parents are very happy to bring their kids because they know it will be a fun experience that is safe, high quality, and enjoyable for the kids. It will be artistic, original…all the things you want for your little ones. And at the end of the show we sign autographs and give out juicys and stickers.

It sounds like the Limecat musicals are as unique and special as your ZJU shows, just in a different way.

DD: Yes, they are fast paced, turbo charged, high energy musicals that we do with the same heart and zeal as all of our other shows. They’re also “close up” which really helps to involve the kids. They are very funny, and very original. Even though the story may be familiar, what the audience sees is highly original.

Tell us a little bit about The Tortoise & the Hare Make a Holiday Wish.

The Tortoise & the Hare

DD: It’s our new holiday musical comedy spectacular that features 12 songs, dancing, a bunny hop stretch break, colorful costumes, lots of laughs -- and everyone wins at the end. For this story the lessons include teamwork, the holiday spirit of giving and forgiving, peace and harmony and getting along with others, friendship and of course, slow and steady wins the race 

It has a colorful supporting cast of animal friends, snowflakes, dancing matzo-balls and hum-bugs. Terri Tortoise and Harry Hare race through Silly Smelly Swamp, over Highly Hilly Hill, around Willy Wiley Woods before ending at Animal Land’s annual Holiday Hoop-La, hosted by the magical Princess Catnip. The winner gets a magical wish to be granted at the end of the race.

Harry, of course, is out in front but he has a lot of distractions like The Bah Humbugs, the Matzo Balls, a lost snowflake, Mistletoe and Menorrah, and the beautiful Polly Winterflower. Teri, however, just keeps running, or slowly moving, as the case might be. To tell more about the story would be a spoiler alert but they all end up very happy with the unusual outcome, and Animal Land celebrates the Holiday Hoop La. (which, by the way, is non-denominational.)

Are your cast members all part of the ZJU company?

DD: Our cast includes a number of regulars on the ZJU roster: Redetha Deason, Caroline Montes, Wynn, Heather LeHigh, Sebastian Munoz (who also directs at ZJU), and a couple of new actors to the company – Heldine, and Janet Cha (new to Limecat but a regular Urban Death performer).

The Limecat has grown, but the reason for the shows is still very much the same as when they started. It is something we do to “give back” to the community, and the whole ZJU leadership supports it. For us, that’s what it’s all about.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The Tortoise & the Hare Make a Holiday Wish
Sundays at 1pm and 3pm
December 2, 9, 16, 23
Limecat Family Theater
@ ZJU Theatre Group
4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, 91601
Reservations: (818) 202- 4120
Tickets: $10 for adults, $8 for children 12 and under.

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