When is a fairy tale, not a fairy tale? Philadelphia director Suli Holum and Philly’s Quintessence Theatre Group hit up The Little Princess
Author Frances Hodgson Burnett’s legendary bedtime stories, The Little Princess and The Secret Garden are the sort-of serenely sinister fairy tales that often take on a brand of menace that could bug out children and parents alike… When filmed or rendered theatricality by a keenly observant, but, diabolical eye.
And while Philadelphia director and founding member of this city’s toast of the avant-garde, the Pig Iron Theatre Company, Suli Holum does indeed have children she loves, she too casts a slightly evil eye on her take on Burnett’s timeless classic. Suli Holum is the woman behind Quintessence Theatre’s new virtual production of The Little Princess. Her children made helpful tips too. Such as using Post It Notes as directorial “sidebar” tools.
“You want to make something the whole family, kids and adults, will be intrigued by,” said Holum during our brief chat.
Filming during the pandemic, with its four actors performing from their respective houses with specially dressed and designed home studios crafted by Quintessence and Holum’s team. Costumes by Tiffany Bacon. Original music composed by Liz Filios. Props and sets were created by designer You-Shin Chen. Their Little Princess acts more like a fourth-wall broken film than just another Zoom event.
“I kept forgetting that the actors couldn’t see each other as I directed them,” stated Holum. “Plus, with several cameras being worked by video designer Lee Cortopassi, Quintessence’s Artistic Associate, it became an even more unique experience. Different than anything I have done in the past.”
Another thing that made Holum and Quintessence’s The Little Princess boldly different and more authentic is that Priyanka Shetty served as its cultural consultant and co-adaptor. And made certain that its tale of raising its lead character, Sara Crewe, in India was true to its original tone. Sara Crewe is played by American Shakespeare Center, Shakespeare Theatre Company and Kennedy Center actor Renea Brown.
“We wanted to get that right. And I’m grateful that Quintessence went to such lengths as bringing in a cultural consultant,” said Brown.
For the record, here is Quintessence’s own take on the proceedings:
Beloved for her generosity, kindness, and intelligence, Sara Crewe leads a life straight out of a fairy tale. Amidst the swirl of a lavish thirteenth birthday party, news reaches Miss Minchin’s Boarding School that Sara’s father has died overseas. The family is ruined, and Sara’s fortune vanishes overnight. With no tuition to pay school fees, Sara is stripped of her possessions, banished to an attic, and forced to toil as Miss Minchin’s servant. Equipped with only her books, vivid imagination, and the devotion of her well-earned friends, Sara discovers her innate power and that there is more to a meaningful life than pretty dresses and glittering jewels. From the celebrated writer of The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1902 play The Little Princess is the perfect adventure for the whole family.
The Little Princess is available any time between January 25 and January 31 at www.QTGrep.org or by calling 215.987.4450.