Amanda Mason Q+A
Amanda is a teaching artist with Child’s Play NY who loves magical thinking! Whether it be an Imagine That class with pre-k students or an Under the Sea class in which 1st graders write their own myths, she loves channelling the kids’ own magical thinking. She is also an actress and theatre maker whose work has been seen in New York City both on and off-Broadway, and internationally at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the West End. I caught up with her about her favorite games, favorite moments teaching and even learned about pickle pizza!
How has working with kids inspired your own work as a theatre maker?
In 2019 I co-wrote and co-produced a play with some of my dearest classmates and favorite collaborators from Boston University, which we later took to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I kid you not, so many of our devising techniques came from my work with children–writing prompts to create narrative, improvisation, movement based character development, animal work, even silly warm ups like “Crazy 8s” to get us out of our heads and into our bodies! In order to devise and rehearse together, we had to find our own way into the freedom and intuitive play that children use every day, and what better model than the incredibly imaginative children I work with at Child’s Play NY?
What were some of the most important takeaways from your own theatre training?
So much of what I treasured from my conservatory training at Boston University (and abroad for a semester at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) was coming back to the sense of play that is so innate to children of all ages. I find that freedom, lack of judgement, and BRAVERY to be essential to navigate all things in life, on stage or off.
One of my favorite acting teachers here in NYC, the brilliant Deborah Hedwall, is always talking about how key our curiosity is to our creativity–curiosity about other people, the world around us, and the wonder of being human!
What’s a moment from a Child’s Play NY class that you’ll never forget?
I was teaching an “Under the Sea” class at Packer with first graders a few years ago, and we were playing a warm up game called “Everybody’s Got Thumbs,” in which everyone says the prompt “Everybody’s got thumbs, but not everybody’s got…,” and each child in the circle fills in the blank before we move to the next person. We got to this one little girl, and she said, “Everybody’s got thumbs, but not everybody’s got…human rights.” The other teachers and I were absolutely gobsmacked by the profundity of her answer, and we actually had to pause for a moment, first to pick our jaws up from off the floor, but also because one of the children asked what “human rights” even were. So, we took a moment to talk about that huge concept and to acknowledge the truth of what she had said. It’s moments like those where I am reminded that even the youngest students are constantly taking in the world around them and making sense of it in such important ways. I feel so lucky to bear witness to those huge connections.
You are a person who has had some unique jobs, one of them being a wedding officiant here in NYC! What is that like?
For me, every job that I do stems from my love of and fascination with people and their stories. A wedding is, in a lot of ways, like a piece of theatre. There is a beginning, middle, and end, with lots of unexpected twists and turns, and believe it or not, some improvisation. It never quite goes exactly as planned, and I have to be present with my own script for the ceremony, as well as being present in the moment so that I can react quickly to the inevitable shifts and changes that take place. It’s really the same deal as when I’m teaching — I have a lesson plan, but the plan is ever evolving to take in what I’m getting back from the kids. It’s a fluid dialogue between all of us, and if something doesn’t land, we have to be flexible and try it another way.
What were your favorite books growing up?
I absolutely adored (and still do!) Roald Dahl’s books, especially The Witches, so I am always overjoyed to be a part of those Child’s Play NY productions! As a child, I was captivated by Dahl’s dark humor, which allowed me to ask questions about complicated subjects that felt mysterious, and interesting, and sometimes even taboo. I also loved the way he so often championed the children in his stories and allowed them to be the heroes, which always made me feel empowered!
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle also totally blew my mind as a kid, and it was actually one the very first plays adapted from a book that I ever saw. I’ll never forget the experience of seeing the images of this magical story that had been swirling around in my imagination as I read the story, translated to physical bodies in space acting out those moments in real time.
I was also a huge Beverly Cleary fan! I was obsessed with all of the Ramona Quimby books, and I always loved Dear Mr. Henshaw, too.
What’s an acting job that has impacted your life in a big way?
I had the true pleasure of working on The Elephant Man at Williamstown Theatre Festival and then later, when it transferred to Broadway and the West End. I was in the ensemble, so I had the opportunity to observe the superbly talented and seasoned actors around me leading us all. The warmth, care, and light-heartedness emanating from those actors, who had been in the business for decades, trickled down into the rest of the company, and it reminded me of how contagious kindness is. Everyone is watching the leaders of a company, and the way they treat others informs the community as a whole. It was a great reminder of the importance of taking time to get to know one another, especially in this bustling city where it can be easy to forget to slow down and take it all in.
What is your favorite game to play with children?
Oh boy, I love a character interview–interviewing a unicorn who needs our help finding her way home, an elephant we’ve encountered on our treasure hunt who has an important clue to offer us, a tiny mermaid who wants to tell us how she saved the day by helping a crab who lost his shell, the possibilities are endless! Any age can thrive with this game, and I am always delighted to watch a child use their empathy and creativity to step into the shoes of another person or creature to tell their story.
What is your most bizarre cooking adventure of late?
Pickle pizza! That’s right…it is phenomenal. I’m happy to share the recipe with anyone who is interested. Prepare to be amazed.
What is a typical day off like for you?
A workout class (my favorites are ones that include aerobics with a little weight lifting–I played soccer for a decade, so I’ve always loved jumping around), breakfast at a favorite diner (Is there anything better than a diner breakfast?!), and a play in the evening 🙂