Questions and answers
Red Mill!‘s Alex Timbers Bridges Theater and Children’s Literature with Broadway bird
The director-turned-Tony-winning author talks about the inspirations and process behind his new children’s book.
Louisa, a budgie deemed too small for the big Broadway stage, refuses to give up her dream of stardom like Iguana Menzel, Patti LuPony, Cheetah Rivera and Otter McDonald in Alex Timbers’ new children’s book Broadway Bird, releasing May 24 from Macmillan. Can’t get enough of Timbers’ Broadway puns? Check our more here.
Timbers, the Tony-winning director of Red Mill! Musical comedy !, beetle juice, American utopiaand more, brings together his love of Broadway and his lifelong love of birds with a story about perseverance and challenging boundaries for young readers and theatergoers.
Timbers sat down with Playbill to discuss how the book got started, how his parents introduced him to Broadway, and how being a Broadway director helped him grow. preparing to write a children’s book.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
Alex Timbers: Ever since I was little, I’ve been thinking about what drives us to do theater as theater makers. I always think back to those times in high school, sitting backstage watching your friends play as you are about to carry on. It’s really about a sense of community, so I really like the metaphor of finding your herd. I feel like that’s what a lot of theater people find in each other, and theater goers find in each other. The idea of this bird trying to find its own flock sounds really exciting.
How did you Broadway bird develop into its shiny, finished form?
A few years ago, when we were in Boston during the technical rehearsals of Red Mill!, there is a lot of downtime. And so, I started thinking “what are animal metaphors for Broadway?” And that was sort of the launch pad. It seemed to me that an essential part of New York life is pigeons and starlings everywhere. So it felt like a bird coming into town was kind of a natural character, a natural protagonist.
You dedicate the book to your parents and to Nana. Can you share a memory of how your parents introduced you to Broadway?
I grew up in New York, in Manhattan, believe it or not. And growing up, we raised parakeets and finches, so birds have always been a part of my life. I have loved them since I was little in the same way that theater has always been part of my life. My first show was Cats in the Winter Garden. I remember seeing, at a young age, Shogun at the Marquis where beetle juice is now. What really changed everything for me was that my mom bought me a ticket to a show I didn’t want to go to, just because I didn’t know anything about it, called tommy. Seeing this at the St. James transformed my vision of what theater could be. This production of tommy I felt like it was in dialogue with popular culture – it sounded and sounded like the music videos I loved on TV. And all of these experiences wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had parents who nurtured and encouraged the arts and theater.
Did you find any similarities between working on this book and working on Broadway?
There was a relationship between the theatrical direction and the making of the book that was kind of interesting, like working on the pacing of the book, because every turn of the page is kind of like a curtain unfolding, you know? And in musicals, you have a theme, something that runs through the whole show; and I hope every song carries on to that and every character exists in some way on a thematic axis, reflecting that theme. It’s interesting because the economy of a storybook is so tight that it has to be equally rigorous where you see it reverberating on every page – every character, every line relates in some way or from another to that.
What are some of your goals for what the book will do?
I was trying to figure out how to describe what we do. It was like an entry for young people into the world of theatre. But, I also wanted to do something fun for adults with puns and references.
I think some of the most magical things about theater people, and it’s probably across all sectors of the industry, is the power of perseverance. We’ve obviously seen that a lot during the pandemic, the kind of tenacity people and artists have shown. But, it’s also not about being limited by how people see you and want to define you. I think the theater is making great strides in this area and will continue, I hope. I hope Louisa reflects that too.