By Brian Scott Lipton . . .

Not only has Manhattan become a more exciting place since the opening earlier this summer of the enchanting Little Island, but the excitement is now building over the Little Island Storytelling Festival, which runs there July 21-25.

Curated by Little Island Artist-in-Residence PigPen Theatre Co., the multidisciplinary festival both draws upon the celebrated company’s theatrical, eclectic style and features some of the city’s finest singer-songwriters, musicians, poets and actors, including Amber Iman, Ato Blankson-Wood, Daniel J. Watts, Darius de Haas, Rebecca Naomi Jones and Shaina Taub.

TheaterPizzazz recently spoke to the members of PigPen about this sure-to-be-incredible event and some of its other important projects.

TP: What was the inspiration for the festival, and what do you hope it will accomplish?

PP: We’ve had the privilege of performing and developing our own work at festivals of all shapes and sizes: school festivals, fringe festivals, music festivals, and of course, theatre festivals. It’s always been a dream of ours to synthesize those experiences into a singular experience that pays homage to the one thing they all share: artists with a love of telling stories.

TP: What is the planning process like for a project this ambitious?

PP: In some ways we’ve been “planning it” (read: daydreaming) since we started writing stories together, more than a decade ago. But we moved into real tangible planning with Little Island a little over two years ago. 

TP: How did you choose which artists would participate in it?

PP: Producing a festival is a seemingly never-ending, but incredibly rewarding, series of twists and turns – much like a pretzel. We asked some old collaborators to be a part of our first festival and we asked some artists we’ve just met to perform, because we so respect and admire what they do. One silver lining of the pandemic is that literally everyone we asked was eager to perform again. That being said, of course some things didn’t work out the first time around, but we look forward to years two and three to keep building this festival out.

TP: Little Island has generated enormous excitement among New Yorkers. How do you feel about performing there as a resident company?

PP: We feel lucky. And grateful. And excited. After years touring on the road, it’s a comfort to finally have a home at home in New York City. And for that home to be a stunning, one-of-a-kind park in the Hudson River, well that’s just surreal. The challenges are there, sure, but it’s nothing we didn’t sign up for and we will continue to learn and grow from them!

TP: PigPen has some other exciting projects in the work, including an adaptation of “Like Water for Elephants.” Can you talk about why and how you plan to transform that novel into a theatrical experience?

PP: We don’t want to say too much about “Elephants” yet! But we’re really thrilled about the creative team and can’t wait to share more about that show in the coming year. But having just come off our world premiere runs of “Despereaux” in California, we can say that the most fulfilling part of adapting stories from the page is finding the parts that really soar on the stage, in a room full of people, and leaning into them. Letting those themes and theatrical devices lead the way never lets you down.