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Pay your bling, hear Grimmz sing

Northern International Children's Festival of the Arts debuts New Jersey based Experiential Theatre's hip hop based Grimmz Fairy Tales.

What if the Brothers Grimm were alive today writing fairy tales? They just might appear as Jay and Will Grimmz, two hip-hop sensations spinning modern day fables. 

In Experiential Theatre’s vision, the brothers are returning to their old urban hood where they grew up. In the gritty, tough and decaying streets, Jay and Will plan a rock-styled theatrical concert. 

Grimmz Fairy Tales, a modern-day spin on the classic stories, takes place at the International Children’s Festival of the Arts from May 30 to June 2. During the 45-minute show, three stories will be told: Snow White and the Seven Shawties, Down with Rapunzel, and Break, Cinderella, Break

“There’s hip-hop dancing. There’s rhyming. There’s singing. It’s very energetic from beginning to end,” said Christopher Parks, artistic director of Experiential Theatre. He is a veteran of numerous children’s productions where imagination and reality are blended with creativity, passion and leadership. 

Although musically fun and fanciful on the surface, the New Jersey company produces thought-provoking shows. To tell each story, a team writes clever scripts, develops original music and dance, incorporates masks, and adopts imaginative lighting effects. At the festival, five actors—two men and three women—spin the narrative.  

Misfortune is a trademark of the classic Brothers Grimm fables and Experiential Theatre has spun modern tales that are grim with seemingly insurmountable odds. But despite the unhappiness, each story is also laced with hope and beauty. 

“The themes tend to have deep meanings – rejection, acceptance, despair, hope and the obstacles everyone faces in life, and how hard it is to take care of others,” said Parks. 

For instance, in Snow White’s fable, when the teen turns 16, she joins the Magic Mirror Act. Her popularity reaches the No. 1 spot and Snow White quickly topples the Queen off her throne. The Queen is incensed and does everything she can to sabotage her.  

“Snow White is confused, but her Granny and the seven shawties (short, spunky women) help her see it doesn’t matter what others think of you. The only thing that matters is what you think of yourself,” he said. 

Parks built a reputation creating nationally recognized shows while working as McCarter Theatre’s director of education at Princeton from 2001 to 2013. 

“They were a model for different theatres across the United States and abroad for young audiences. They were exciting but also thought-provoking. I wanted to create stories that were for and about young people. I didn’t want something that was just interesting to look at. I wanted to provoke people, make them think.” 

Since first seeing The Lion King on Broadway, Parks defined the production as the gold standard for both youth and adults. 

“Theatre for youth and adults is the same. The only difference is the age of the protagonists. Good theatre is always truthful, well-told with attention to detail. It wants to be honest, different and inspiring.” 

As an example, the Grimmz fairy tale dubbed Break, Cinderella, Break focuses on emotional abuse. 

“A child’s psyche is just as complicated as that of an adult. Cinderella lives with her mother on the wrong side of town. One day her mother disappears. Child protective services picks her up and forces her to live with her father who she barely knows. There’s a woman in the house who treats her in a subversive way. She is forced to live with a woman who is emotionally abusive and plays mind games. 

If you are going through it, you get it. Our hope is kids watching it will say, ‘Hey, I’m not alone,’ and get help. Possibly, it may bring them comfort to realize they are not imagining it and they are not alone.” 

Parks explains the show can be summed up in four words from the title of a song, Whatca gonna do. 

In the broader context those four words ask, “When the going gets tough, and people need help, are you going to stand up and help or stand by and do nothing?”  

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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