New Work in Progress: Bella: An American Tall Tale

This month, we chat with Kirsten Childs about her new show Bella: An American Tall Tale, which will receive its world premiere next season in a co-production with Dallas Theater Center and Playwrights Horizons. The production has just received a NFNM Production Grant. Childs is a Festival Alumna from her shows The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin (Fest ’98) and Funked Up Fairy Tales (Fest ’12).

How did the idea for Bella: An American Tall Tale first come to you?
I was walking home to my apartment one day, and a couple was walking in the same direction ahead of me.  Much to the appreciation of all the men (and I mean ALL the men) passing by, the woman had an extravagantly zaftig African fertility goddess figure.  I actually slowed down to watch each and every man stop, turn and look at the woman as they passed her by.  Their spellbound behavior underscored for me the fact that women are being sold a fraudulent bill of goods as to what men find attractive in a woman.  Right then and there, I decided to make a larger-than-life tall tale about a heroine modeled after this modern day Venus.  And what better place to set a larger-than-life tall tale than the American Old West?

Bella is going to have its world premiere in a co-production with Dallas Theater Center and Playwrights Horizons. Can you tell us a little about how that partnership came about?
It came about because of synchronicity AND because I finally had the guts to talk myself up!  After working on the show for my own pleasure for some years, I pitched Bella to Tim Sanford, the artistic director of Playwrights Horizons.  I had done another musical at Playwrights (The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin—also, I might add, developed in part at NAMT).  Tim mentioned that Playwrights was looking to co-develop a musical with a regional theater, and—here’s the synchronicity part—I ran into Kevin Moriarty, artistic director of Dallas Theater Center a couple of days later at Lincoln Center’s The King And I.  I’d had a blast working on a Dallas Theater Center show (Fly, with Rajiv Joseph and Bill Sherman) and I shamelessly promoted myself to Kevin.  He was intrigued with the idea, and here we are.

What kind of work have the two theatres been doing to help you further develop the project and prep for the premiere? 
There have been several readings and workshops at Playwrights, and I’m now in the process of prepping for a workshop at Dallas (I’m in Dallas even as I write this).  And everyone’s suggestions and questions have been thought-provoking and immensely helpful.

What is the best part of having the chance to work with both DTC and Playwrights Horizons, and presenting the work to two different cities?
You can’t think of a place more symbolic of the West than Texas and what’s more East Coast than New York City?  So I’ll be able to see how audiences with two completely different regional perspectives connect with the show.

What part of Bella are you most excited to see onstage?
I’m excited to see people who have long been invisible in our nation’s great past claiming their rightful place in history, and claiming it with as much boldness, brashness and pure joy as a tall tale allows.

Why should our members find their way to one of these two theatres to catch this world premiere?
Because they’re in for a night of high adventure, silly fun and little-known American history, all wrapped up in a toe-tapping 19th century funkified tall tale.

For more information about Bella: An American Tall Tale, visit DTC’s website or Playwrights Horizons’ website.

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