“I feel like theater is a collaborative proposition for the kids. How to get along with other people, how to work with a group. And the experience gives them an opportunity to work on their confidence – there are so many great psychological benefits to theater that help enhance the kids. And that’s why I do it. I feel that it’s important to guide them through the collaborative process.”
–Dawn Morningstar, Director, “Mulan, Jr.”
Dawn Morningstar is a proficient multi-tasker. As she escorts her cast to sign-in for morning rehearsal she walks gracefully, shoulders back and chin held high.
During the interview several people ask her questions which she quickly answers, and then gets back to talking about her experience directing, “Mulan, Jr.”
“Now where were we? Oh yes! What brings me back here every year?”
A dance/movement therapist and a choreographer, she works with professional theater companies and choreographs various school productions in Radnor, Bala Cynwyd, and Lower Merion. She’s also working with many Summer Stage alumni and staff alumni at Mazeppa Productions, a new musical theater production company in Philadelphia. www.MazeppaProductions.org.
She has been working at Upper Darby Summer Stage since the late 80s when she choreographed every Children’s Theater show during a summer season. That’s when she worked with Tina Fey. But that’s a story for another time.
Dawn: The kids. I have so much fun. And I love the collaboration. It’s a little bit hectic and crazy which I kind of like. There’s good energy here. I feel like there’s really good ch’i.
WHAT DO THE KIDS GET OUT OF THE EXPERIENCE?
DM: My goal for the kids is for every individual to have a moment on stage. Each is featured in some way and they feel good about what they do. That’s really what theater is about. It’s not about how good you look on stage or how good you dance. It’s about feeling good about what you’re doing and feeling positive about yourself.
I feel like theater is a collaborative proposition for the kids. How to get along with other people, how to work with a group. The experience gives them an opportunity to work on their confidence – there are so many great psychological benefits to theater that help enhance the kids. And that’s why I do it. I feel that it’s important to guide them through the collaborative process.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR “MULAN, JR.?”
DM: While I’m inspired by the movie – the colors and the costuming, what I really want is for people to feel that they’ve gone on a trip, someplace different for an hour, that they’ve gone on a trip to ancient China.
We want to get the feel of China through the set design, the costumes and the movement throughout the performance. The cast is learning Tai Chi!
DM: The audience is going to see a lot of great singing and dancing. They’re going to see fight scenes. They’re going to see some really beautiful dancing. They’re going to see a cast that is energetic and fun.
And they’ll learn an important lesson about fighting for what one believes in. They’ll learn the story of Mulan, a girl who has broken tradition and has done something different against all odds. And she does succeed. And she teaches people about balance. The yin and the yang. The feminine and the masculine and how we’re not just one, we’re both.
THE KIDS HAVE JUST A FEW WEEKS TO PULL THE SHOW TOGETHER. HOW DO YOU KEEP THEM MOTIVATED?
DM: I’m big on giving them a lot of the responsibility. “Listen, you have five minutes. Work on something. Find something to do.” I give them a lot of responsibility in terms of thinking about their character and developing their character. Of course I’ll help shape it, but they’re the ones on stage and they need to feel good about what they’re doing. So I take their input a lot. I want them to be thinking about things like “What am I doing now?” “Why am I here?” “Why is this moment important to the furthering of the story?”
I also have an awesome staff. And I split them up. It is such a tight schedule. We need to multi-task all the time. I usually have 3 or 4 things going on. I’m always trying to utilize my time as much as possible.