Q & A With Gay H. Hammond, Director/Playwright of The Ugly Duckling

Gay H. Hammond is Director of WonderQuest, Resident Dramatist for GTA, and Associate Professor of Theatre at Brenau University. WonderQuest patrons will recognize her as the playwright who directed and penned the script for last year’s Sophie and the Pirates, among many others. Since 1992, Ms. Hammond has written almost 40 plays for WonderQuest and GTA audiences, and is happy that her plays are now available and being produced nationally through New Classics. She treasures children’s literature and writing plays for young audiences especially. She loves to play with words and is also the Wordsmith and Emcee for the Hall County Alliance for Literacy Spelling Bee. The first Brenau graduate of the joint program between Brenau and UNG, Ms. Hammond received a BA in Theatre and English from Brenau College, an MA in Theatre from the University of Louisville, and an MFA in Playwriting from Spalding University.

What excites you the most about this production?

I have a great love for animal characters, and so I am excited to see how the actors rise to that challenge, both physically and emotionally. I also am very excited by the beautiful set designed by Celeste Morris, which I believe is going to prove both challenging and rewarding.

What do you believe will be the most challenging part of this production?

Moving set pieces are always challenging, and this show has quite a few. However, because our concept involves the characters themselves being engaged in reshaping their environment, I feel we will be able to handle this challenge creatively and successfully.

What challenges are posed by having a cast of animals?

Having all animal characters is my favorite part, less a challenge and more a delight. Watching actors free themselves of “human” expectations in their movement and voice, while still seeking to anchor the characters in “human” connection is wonderful.

Why did you choose to place the show in Regency England?

Be aware that the placement into Regency England is very loosely based–there is a lot of creative license involved. We took Regency as a jumping-off place. Our wonderful costume designer William Mellette and I settled on Regency England as our base because of its excellent “storybook” visual qualities, as evidenced by the work of beloved illustrator Kate Greenaway. We found that many of the elements of status (ducks are not so elegant as swans, for instance) and silhouette were clarified through the Regency Setting. At the same time, other characters (Molly Mouse and Mama Duck, for example) were able to borrow from earlier and earthier periods like the Georgian or even rather Baroque (Mandarin Duck).

How does creating a show for young audiences differ from other production processes?

TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) as a form is usually highly-energized, with a lot packed into a shorter time-frame. Our rehearsal period is shorter, so our work needs to be very focused, with an emphasis upon rapid choice-making. Also, theatre for young audiences–like Elizabethan theatre–needs to focus on embodying all the language and emotion into physical expression, not just vocal. Children are used to figuring out things from context and body language, so we must make sure our bodies are “telling the truth” and not weakening the impact of the dialogue. I also think that theatre for young audiences has a higher charge to be honest, to engender compassion and to speak directly to as many kinds of young people as possible. I think that all theatre should do those things, but theatre for young audiences especially.

Why is it important that young audiences be exposed to theatre?

Live theatre empowers those who are small, comforts those who are struggling and inspires those who are reaching. It lights a fire in the brain and heart. Live theatre is unlike anything you will find in a “screen” experience. The “shared breath” of being in the same space at the same time, listening to and feeling with other people is a true communion, which creates empathy. Empathy is necessary to our human condition, because it is that–feeling what others feel–which enables us to show mercy, to grow as human beings, to create and sustain civilization. At what age is this experience NOT important?

What do you most hope audiences take away from this show?

Everybody’s beautiful. And, kindness matters more than power.

What was it about the original tale that made you want to retell it?

Interestingly, most of our memories of the message of the original tale are not there upon rereading it. I find it to have an unacceptable amount of cruelty depicted. So, I wanted to create a new version that illuminated what we remember of the original, that we should be kind to those who are different, rather than judgmental–and that we all grow into that which we must be.

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