NEW YORK CITY: “Even though it was cute and sweet, it wasn’t right,” confesses Barbara Zinn Krieger of her theatre company’s now-former name, Making Books Sing. She’d started the company in the late ’90s as a youth-focused branch of her work producing original plays and musicals at the Vineyard Theatre, the Off-Broadway powerhouse she’d founded in 1981. The initial company name fit snugly, as its mission was to adapt children’s books—typically ones with a social or educational bent, not the usual kiddie franchises—into musicals. But after Zinn Krieger left the Vineyard to work on children’s theatre full-time—perhaps ironically, the year the theatre shared a Tony win for Avenue Q—her new company’s mission soon expanded to include anti-bullying programs, puppet work and even ballet. The “singing books” moniker began to seem limiting.
“We thought of lots of new names but we kept coming back to New York City Children’s Theater,” she says. “We’re in the five boroughs, and that says what we are.”
What’s amazing is that the name wasn’t already taken. But, as Zinn Krieger points out, there’s an unfilled niche for original work created in New York City for New York City children. The city boasts at least one major theatre that commissions new work for young audiences, Theatreworks USA, but after a short New York run, those shows hit the road and tour the country; the Vital Theatre Company tends to favor lighter fare in the Pinkalicious vein; and New Victory Theater chiefly presents exciting children’s theatre from all over the world (though they, too, are now developing work with New York artists).
NYC Children’s Theater stages two-show seasons at the Mint Theater in midtown Manhattan: one show for three-to-seven-year-olds, and another for eight and older. The troupe’s next show is for the former cohort, and it’s in the familiar singing-books mode: The Amazing Adventures of Harvey and the Princess, based on Loryn Brantz’s book, Harvey the Child Mime, features a script by Zinn Krieger herself and songs by children’s-music favorite Laurie Berkner and runs Nov. 15–Dec. 7.
But some other recent pieces—Dear Albert Einstein, Louis Armstrong—were based on ideas, not on any particular books. What all the shows, as well as the other programs the company runs in NYC public schools, have in common, Zinn Krieger says, are that “they’re all about theatre.”