I sat down with son of Sherwood Schwartz, Lloyd Schwartz, to learn more about what inspired him and his wife to create the longest running theatre company for young children in Los Angeles, Storybook Theatre.
Lloyd and Barbara live in a storybook style house in Studio City.
Danielle: When did you start Storybook Theatre?
Lloyd: Our son, Andy, was four, and we couldn’t find a children’s theatre that we liked. Barbara had been a member of the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre, and she had very specific ideas about audience involvement, style, length of the show, etc. That was thirty-four years ago.
Danielle: Why did you decide to start a theatre company for young children?
Lloyd: Why not start our own theater? The first show was performed at a park near our house. It was LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. We used actors whom we knew. I directed and wrote the book and music. Barbara played the mother/narrator. Barbara was a member of Theatre West. Another member, Bridget Hanley, ran into Barbara, and they talked about what we were doing. The board at Theatre West asked to meet with us and invited us to do our show at Theatre West. It was a success, and they asked us to do a season. Since then, there have been eighteen different shows: “Little Red Riding Hood,”“Aladdin, The Princess and the Magic Lamp,” “The Jingle Bell Gang,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Cowboys and Cowgirls,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “Mother Goose: The Musical”“Blast Off: A Musical Mission to Mars,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Rumplestiltskin,” “Cinderella,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and “The Pied Piper.”
Danielle: What are shows like?
Lloyd: The first show at Theatre West in 1985 was LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD which we recast with Theatre West members. To date, we have used one hundred and fifty-four Theatre West members in our shows. They have always been well-received and have gotten good reviews. We have won twenty-nine Valley Theatre League awards in all categories. We have also received commendations from the US Senate, House of Representatives, the City Council, Mayor etc.. as well as winning the inaugural Red Carpet Award from Women in Theatre. The audiences have always been big. One year we played to 102% capacity.
Danielle: How long has Storybook Theatre been hiring Actors Equity actors? Lloyd: We have always tried to use Actors Equity actors. Sometimes, we have used actors who have earned enough points so they could join Equity.
Danielle: I know Barbara produces the shows and sometimes acts in them, what do you do?
Lloyd: I’m a writer. I also produce and direct TV and features, and some theatre. I’m most known for all variations of THE BRADY BUNCH and GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. I co-authored GILLIGAN’S ISLAND: THE MUSICAL and A VERY BRADY MUSICAL. A VERY BRADY MUSICAL which had its world premiere at Theatre West. I’ve produced forty-two plays including THE NEARLYWEDS which has the distinction of being the first play specifically written for dinner theatre. I’ve got two one man shows running now – AN EVENING WITH JOHN WILKES BOOTH and INDEPENDENCE. They’re both playing around the country. INDEPENDENCE is with Kathie Barnes who is a Theatre West member. It was developed at Theatre West. I’ve written, co-written, and directed all of the 18 Storybook Theatre plays. I’ve even written some lyrics and composed several of them. Oh and one last thing – I directed and co-wrote THE BABIES which played off Broadway last year.
Danielle: What else does Barbara do?
Lloyd: Barbara is a very busy actress with a wide range. She was in both of the classics HELTER SKELTER and AIRPLANE! and has won multiple Valley Theatre League Awards, most recently for ENTOURAGE, LOVE, TORCHWOOD, FRANKLING AND BASH. She won best actress in the independent film, WATCH OUT FOR SLICK and has appeared in many commercials. Barbara produces all of the Storybook Theatre plays and has appeared in several of them.
Danielle: You have two sons who have been impacted by Storybook Theatre. Tell me about that.
Lloyd: Both of our sons have a long history with Theatre West. Besides being the inspiration for Storybook Theatre, Andy worked in the box office and has gone on to his own career in TV. He was on the writing staff of SCRUBS and had his own series MIGHTY MED on the Disney Channel. Elliot has starred in many Storybook Theatre plays and received a degree in theatre from UCLA. He co-wrote and directed THE PIED PIPER for Storybook Theatre and won Best Director from the Valley Theatre League. Elliot continues to be a member of Theatre West while working at Vice Entertainment.
Danielle: You’ve got a new show opening soon. What’s it about?
Lloyd: SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. And we do it with only four actors. The children in the audience become the dwarfs. I directed the original production, and David P. Johnson will direct the revival. The play was written by Scott Martin with lyrics by Rob Meuer. The music was composed by Richard Berent. This team was also responsible for Storybook Theatre’s GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS. As with all Storybook Theatre plays, the plots are familiar, but we make it family friendly and not scary. The witch reforms, and it’s not a poison apple. It merely has tryptophan that makes Snow White fall asleep.
Danielle: What are some of your favorite memories of doing Storybook?
Lloyd: We have had a real impact on autistic children. In fact at a performance a child got onto the stage and told the Wolf not to chase Little Red Riding Hood. Later, the teacher told us that the child had never spoken before. That happened one other time. Many celebrities have come to our theatre, and it’s always funny to see Tim Allen or Channing Tatum or Gwen Stefani or Jennifer Garner off to the side while our actors sign autographs.
With only a couple of exceptions, for the last 36 years, Lloyd and Barbara have been at every Saturday performance and all the field trips. It’s not just dedication. They can’t think of any place else they’d rather be. Storybook Theatre’s SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS opens Oct 20 and runs through March 2, 2019. Saturdays at 1 p.m. $15 for adults $12 for children. Birthday parties and field trips are available. www.theatrewest.org.
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