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New Paradigm Theatre brings to the stage with a 'trashy', eco-conscious The Little Mermaid

Megan McCool Photography
The New Paradigm Theatre

Disney's 1989 classic "The Little Mermaid" is getting an environmentally conscious stage adaption.

It’s put on stage by Stamford’s New Paradigm Theatre, partnering with the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. The show features Connecticut talents of all ages and backgrounds on August 19- 20 at Black Rock Church in Fairfield.

WSHU’s Molly Ingram spoke with New Paradigm Theatre’s founder Kristin Huffman to discuss their upcoming show, “The Little Mermaid.”

WSHU: The New Paradigm Theatre has partnered with the Maritime Aquarium to present "The Little Mermaid." How is it different from most adaptations of the Disney movie?

KH: Well, it's exactly the same show, we were not allowed to actually change anything about the show itself, Disney requires that. So if you come to see the show, you know, you'll see all your favorite characters. But we partnered with the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, we always partner with a social justice nonprofit that reflects the theme of our show. So in this case we thought — marine debris and the environment — there's hardly a more important conversation right now.

So, we have done some beach cleanups with them and some other partnered events, and our teams and their teams have worked together. With the help from our professional designers and directors, we've created the sets, the costumes, and the props out of all recycled, repurposed, and reused materials. And a lot of the things that we cleaned up at the beach, you're going to see in the show on the stage so we can really say, 'look, if Ariel were swimming through the ocean today, she'd be bumping into plastics.'

WSHU: Tell me about the set design. Was it challenging to build from recycled material?

KH: You know, we have two wonderful set design professionals, Bill Stark and Tamar Klausner. And they really were thoughtful about how they wanted to put everything together. We had, I'm going to say, four or five set building workshops with them. Our volunteers are teenagers, so we used a lot of hot glue guns trying to figure out how do we glue these things in.

For instance, King Triton’s throne looks like a Game of Thrones throne, but it's made up of plastic bottles and Starbucks cups. We should get a sponsorship from Starbucks. You turn it around, and it's Ariel’s or it's Ursula’s lair, and it's got all these drippy plastic bags. Lauralton Hall is a school here in Milford and they helped us make trash dripping jellyfish out of umbrellas. Tracy Elementary School helped us figure out how to do these little fish helmets that had been turned into Lion King puppets out of kitty litter bottles.

So you know, we came up with some of these designs, and then we went, 'okay, let's go ahead and try it.' And so they've done such a great job.

WSHU: You mentioned an educational aspect of the show. What can the audience expect to learn?

KH: At the pre-show when they're walking in, there'll be a PowerPoint and it'll be talking about “did you know”. So you'll see a blast that the Maritime is putting together that gives you information about plastics in the trash, but you'll literally know you're looking at trash on stage, we're not afraid to lean into that. And on our youth board of directors, we're a nonprofit with an adult board of directors and a youth board of directors, Helen Hen is creating a video from the teen perspective on the environment and marine debris. So you'll be able to see that during intermission.

Then in the lobby when people come in, the Maritime Aquarium will have their teenagers doing various pop-ups of here's what happens in the ocean. So the whole thing is yes, come to enjoy the Little Mermaid, but it's going to look a little different. For instance, Ursula’s dressed in all black plastic bags. It's amazing looking. And it looks very professional because our designers have done that.

But you're going to be aware that you're looking at trash, you know, that you're looking at sets, costumes and props that have been created specifically out of trash to let you know there are things we need to do. And there'll be all sorts of information there about that.

Tickets and more information can be found here nptheatre.org.

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.