When I heard about Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton’s new program on Netflix, Julie’s Greenroom, I was enraptured. After all, I’m The Culture Mom and I’ve been blogging about how to bring the arts in your children’s lives for the past seven years on this blog and elsewhere. I have a keen, genuine interest in arts education and I”m particularly interested in shows, books and films that encourage a child. It’s important to get children into the arts as early as possible and that/s what Ive always encouraged,
The show showcases the impact the arts can have on a child’s life. Andrews plays the leader of a performing arts company who works with a host of new puppet characters created by the Henson Co. The puppet troupe on “Julie’s Greenroom” will be known as the Greenies. Andrews’ Miss Julie character will work with the youthful puppets throughout the season to create a stage show that incorporates mime, music, dance, improv, circus arts and singing. It teaches kids about all the various aspects of the arts, about different fields and careers such as set design, costumes, lighting and sound. Having partnered with Henson, the show is quite reminiscent of The Muppets, which was pioneering in terms of arts education.
Last week I was lucky to spend a substantial amount of time with the literary mother-daughter duo, authors of Dumpy at School, The Great American Mousical, The Very Fairy Princess, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles among other titles. They were an absolute joy, completing each other’s words with such passion anout their recent collaboration. Andrews may be the legendary star of Mary Poppins, The Sound Of Music and a movie I adored in my youth, Victor/Victoria, but we focused our chat around her new show.
“We are both very passionate about the arts,” said Hamilton. “Mom, of course with her arts background. I have a theater background and work with children. Mom has for a long time wanted to do a show about the arts for children. But for a variety of reasons, the time never presented itself. A year ago, Lisa Henson, from the Henson Company, said ‘let’s do a show, something about the arts.'”
“I said, ‘yes, please!'” Andrews added. “I jumped at it. It’s not a moment too soon.The fact is I’m now doing what I’ve wanted to do for so long. If theater stimulates children even a little bit, I’d be so happy.
Each episode plucks from the series’ impressive roster of celebrity guests, and the two women said working with them all has been magical. “We bring in wonderfully, powerful guest stars,” Andrews proudly told me. “Sarah Bareilis teaches song writing, Alec Baldwin teaches acting, Idina Menzell, Ellie Kemper, Titus Bergess, David Hyde Pierce, Kris Kolfer teaches writing, Joshua Bell, Josh Grobin teaches song, the cast of Stomp teaches dancing, Tyler Peck and Robin Fairchild teach ballet, Carol Burnett who plays someone called Edna.”
I couldn’t help but point out the interesting timing of the show, with the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) funding in jeopardy with the dawn of the new Presidential Administration. Andrews and Hamilton nodded in agreement. “The irony is that the arts is always the first budget to be cut, but we know that statistically there is no better way to teach skills like problem solving, critical thinking, communications, empathy, tolerance, teamwork, collaboration and the value of the arts,” said Hamilton. “If the arts are in peril, we must do our small part to to fight the good fight and protect and preserve. Plus, if you start exposing children to this stuff when they’re young, it’s much more accessible. Later in life, it can seem elitist or scary. But if you’re submersed early enough, you feel like you belong.”
“The arts are a bridge between countries and cultures,” said Andrews.
The duo implied that the cast of puppets’ diversity was very much intentional. Hamilton said, “We want to reach a wide an audience as possible so every child an see themselves in the characters and have them identify.” Andrews is enchanted by the work of the puppeteers, adding, “They are geniuses. They are so talented and, so talented, and you never see them. You secretly see them in the audience but don’t know it’s them and who belongs to what puppet.”
Julie’s Greenroom joins a roster of kids’ series on Netflix that features several DreamWorks Animation shows, including All Hail King Julien and Turbo FAST, as well as other children’s series such as Inspector Gadget, Popples and the upcoming Beat Bugs, Lalaloopsy, Stretch Armstrong and The Greenhouse. They were attracted to Netflix immediately. “Netflix is so amazing because they take chances. They’ll take a risk, be edgy, be quirky,” said Hamilton.
“They’re worldwide. The show is being released worldwide, instantaneously,” said Andrews. “I hope children will want to binge and watch these more than once.”
The mom-daughter collaboration so impressed me. I asked how it all started, 30 books ago. “It’s a long time ago now,” Andrews fondly recalled “.My publisher asked me if I had anything for very young children. Emma was very busy with her theater.”
Hamilton added,”My son was very young at the time, this was 20 years ago. She said to me, ‘If you were looking for a book at the library, what would it be?’ I said it would have to be about trucks so that was our first book together.” (Dumpy at School)
“Now I don’t ever imagine writing without her because it reinforces the process,” Andrews said. “We have different strengths. She’s structure, nuts & bolts, the crafts person. It’s so helpful to have another creative mind to bounce ideas off. Can you imagine having had a little girl and having had her cling to your thigh and all that kind of thing then suddenly she grows up and you face yourselves as two equal women with a real connection of minds, stimulation and respect?”
Hamilton told me, “She’s the inspiration, the one who woke up in the middle of the night recently and said ‘We need a duck on our show (in Julie’s Greenroom)!’ I’m the one who says, ‘OK, but how do we get from act one to act two?'”
And that duck is fabulous, by the way. You’ll love the duck.
(Check out their book collection on Amazon and on their own site.)
The show is starting with 13 episodes. The two women are hopeful it gets picked up for season two. “We purposely made this little theater be like a regional theater because for many people, who don’t live in NYC, they might not realize that right down the road there’s a community theater or vocal workshop or dance hall to take advantage of,” said Hamilton.
“If we get picked up, I want to do a day of one of the kids saying ‘I’m bored.’ And we ask them what they want to do if they could, and we can recreate it on stage, using their imagination. I’d like to go to Paris for the day, for example,” added Andrews.
Watch the trailer for the series, which debuts March 17 on Netflix, below.
Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam. I was not compensated to write this post or review the show.