The Stinky Cheese Man, a show that is based on the 1992 widely acclaimed book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, is currently onstage at the Arden Theatre Company. The show is a mashup of fractured fairy tales that are twisted to tell a new story. I had the opportunity to speak with Rachel Camp who currently is in The Stinky Cheese Man. She spoke with me about the show as well as why she loves performing for children, and the importance of live theatre for kids.
Kelli Curtin: Could you tell me about The Stinky Cheese Man?
Rachel Camp: The show The Stinky Cheese Man is based on the children’s book of the same name. It is a show that has twisted fairy tales and they are irreverent and wacky. For example the show takes tales everyone is familiar with such as “Chicken Licken” or “The Ginergerbread Man” and does a mash up to make them really weird and fun. In this show we give the audience a basis for the tales and we make them ridiculous by making the story silly through means such as costumes, props and slapstick. In addition, we also add humor for the adults to make the show enjoyable for them as well. The Stinky Cheese Man is a short romp through fairy tale land, and I kind of like how it was described in a review as “a wackier Into the Woods.”
Kelli: What can kids and parents expect when coming to see the show?
Rachel: They can expect song and dance with creative costumes and lots of fun. Parents will laugh more than they expected to coming to see this show. Kids will be surprised at what they will see onstage. There is a lot of audience engagement and there is no fourth wall in this production. So the actors interact frequently with the audience. The thing that I think is unique about this show is how we engage with our stage manager, Katie Ringwood. Katie is in the “DJ booth” running the lights and sound, and we talk to her throughout the show. I think this show is like Saturday Night Live for fairy tales.
Kelli: What is it about this show that appeals to kids?
Rachel: Part of the appeal is that this is a show where kids can react to what is occurring onstage. Usually when kids come into a theatre they are told to “sit still and pay attention”. The Stinky Cheese Man has this irreverent humor that kids and adults do not get to engage with very often and kids laugh a lot at what they are seeing onstage. In addition, instead of the characters looking sweet and innocent like you would expect from shows based on fairy tales, our characters look angry, scared and they are inquisitive. The Stinky Cheese Man is non-linear and an upended story. The way we tell the tales in this show are non-traditional, and immediately we talk to the kids in the audiences. The children respond to this in such a positive manner, and lets them know they can cheer, clap and engage with what is happening on the stage.
Kelli: Out of all the different stories that are told in The Stinky Cheese Man is there one that is your favorite?
Rachel: I have a couple of different ones, but it changes with every audience. Every audience reacts differently with the different stories, so my favorite seems to change from show to show. However, I really do like “Chicken Licken.” The characters in this story treat the story as if there is an apocalypse coming, and I get to act like a crazy chicken which is silly and fun to do every day. I also love doing the tale based on “The Princess and the Pea” because I get to enter dancing to Beyoncé and it is such an absurd entrance of a character.
In addition, I have to say that my favorite thing I get to do in this show are the talk backs at the end of the show. We get 100% honestly from the kids with their questions, and we get to answer some things they are curious about.
Kelli: In performing in a show that is mainly for kids, what gives you the most fulfillment?
Rachel: I love kids. I love to teach kids, I teach dance, theatre, musical theatre to students, and I teach at the University of the Arts pre-college summer program. So I find myself loving performing in a show for children. Theatre boosts the confidence of kids of all ages and it is a way to honor unique individuals. The Stinky Cheese Man shows kids that it is okay to be wacky and weird and being an individual is celebrated.
The Arden really treats children as full-fledged humans. They treat their kids shows, and the children that come through their doors, with respect. When looking at shows the Arden asks how they can get the most out of a show and treat their theatre-goers with respect no matter what the age. As a kid I was so hungry for inspiration, and the fact that now as an adult I am able to turn around and give back to a younger generation is amazing. I love what I do, and love that I can help inspire and help kids celebrate their individuality.
Kelli: How did you become interested in performing?
Rachel: My whole family are huge supporters of the Arts. My mom is a professional singer and performed continuously while I was growing up, and my dad appreciated the Arts as well. Therefore, I and my sister and brother are all involved in the theatre. I began dancing when I was five years old, and in school I was in the choir and drama club. Once I began drama club and being in shows I knew performing was what I wanted to do. After high school, I began working with Matt Decker and the first show I did with him was You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. He has been a guiding force in my life, and he is just an all-around good human. I am grateful to have met him. This show, The Stinky Cheese Man, is the tenth show I have done with Matt.
Kelli: Do you have a favorite role you have played? Is there a role you are hoping to play?
Rachel: The roles I keep getting just seem to get better and better. I loved being in Lobby Hero at Theatre Horizon, it was something different for me, and it was an excellent production to be a part of. I also loved being the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods, Natalie in Next to Normal and Olive in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It seems the more I learn about the roles that are available the more I am excited to do more.
Roles I am hoping to play change from day to day, and there are ones I am sure I have not even thought about yet. I would love to play Violet from the musical, Violet, the message from this show is wonderful and the music is exquisite.
Kelli: Why do you think taking children to see live theatre is important?
Rachel: For me, I would say it teaches empathy in kids. I think theatre, in a way no other art form does, taps into empathy and teaches people how another person can feel. I think in this age of digital media where we all seem to have short attention spans, theatre helps activates a response that makes people empathetic towards others. It is an important quality to have to help us all survive together as human beings and improve the world we live in. Also, theatre is able to teach about empathy in a way that is specific and energetic and in a theatre where we experience this in a collective way. Live theatre helps offer diversity and helps us celebrate all different types of people regardless of race, class, or gender.
Rachel Camp can be seen in The Stinky Cheese Man. The Stinky Cheese Man runs at the Arden Theatre through June 12, 2016. For more information and tickets visit their website at www.ardentheatre.org or call the box office at 215-922-1122.
Photo Credit Mark Garvin
Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online site broadwayworld.com. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.