Edutainment Strategies: Sesame Street’s Story Book Community School

The first of four case study posts about my presentation for Western States Folklore Society’s Annual Meeting in April 2018. Introduced here, the presentation was titled Princess and the Letter P: Fairy Tales and Edutainment in Preschool Television. The other case studies can be found here.

Sesame Street started in 1969 as one of the most groundbreaking shows in preschool television, originating the form of the pedagogical, publicly funded children’s show. The creators of Sesame Street had everything from a “pedagogical master plan,” to a team of educators, child psychologists, researchers and focus groups. The original goal is to help make up for the gap in the education inner city kids have access to and to prepare them for kindergarten and first grade1.

Each episode is “sponsored” by a letter and a number, and after the plot of the episode, the second section is made up of short segments and songs that focus on the letter and number of the day, including the clearly folklore-adjacent segment with Count Von Count.

I must qualify that the ways that Sesame Street uses fairy tales vary greatly from episode to episode. The co-existence of fairy tale characters like Baby Bear with Sesame Street originals like Oscar the Grouch makes some episodes seem much more fairy-tale-ful than they actually are. An analysis of Sesame Street’s relationship with fairy tales could fill a book, but this specific case study focuses only on the edutainment factors in this episode.

In “Baby Bear’s First Day of School,” Baby Bear attends the Story Book Community School and meets Hansel and Gretel, Jack and Jill, Little Red Riding Hood, Little Bo Peep, Peter Piper, and Mrs Goose.

This segment uses fairy tales as the in-between entertainment value between the lessons that Baby Bear learns. Unusual for a normal episode, this plot part introduces the letter and number of the day as well as the “soft-skills” lesson. Baby Bear learns that it is okay for him to miss his parents when he is at school and that it is totally normal to feel a little bit sad. This lesson isn’t connected in any way with the familiar story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” nor are any of the plot points of that story hit by this episode, (unlike the deconstruction of the story that happens in “Who’ll Replace the Big Bad Wolf”).

The fairy tale characters are used for little self-referential jokes throughout the episode. Jack trips and “breaks his crown.” Hansel and Gretel throw breadcrumbs around. All the students recognize “once upon a time” as the phrase that begins their respective stories. These jokes rely on the familiarity of fairy tales in order to make sense out-of-context, so Sesame Street assumes that the audience these jokes work for is already familiar with the stories.

The familiarity factor of fairy tales is harnessed, but the historically didactic function of the fairy tale itself is swept aside, with the learning falling on the shoulders of a plot unrelated to fairy tales at all. The question remains, are there fairy tale shows that use fairy tales to teach the same lessons that the stories themselves teach? Or are preschool shows too caught up in their own educational agenda to bother with the subtleties of the themes of existing fairy tales? To answer this question, we will turn next week to the most straightforwardly teaching-, literacy-, and skill-focused show in this project: Super WHY!

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Preschool Edutainment and Fairy Tales: The Groundwork

My last big project was about fairy tale mashup episodes in children’s television, and took a large-scale data approach. In choosing a new research topic, I remained interested in the phenomenon that, currently, fairy tales are marketed as “kid stuff.” If marketers want adults to watch their content, they usually sell it as either “gritty” or as nostalgic. TV uses fairy tales because the audience is familiar with the plots and motifs, but what about a child’s possibly first interaction with a certain story? If fairy tales are common cultural stories we all recognize, what can we learn from the way they are presented to children so young that they may not recognize them yet?

For this project, I researched in the realm of children’s television, but focused specifically on television for preschoolers. Generally, preschool television is made primarily for children from ages 2 to 6. The shows are not intending to be interesting to older children or adults, because they are attuned specifically to the developmental stages of their audience.

blue's clues with paw logo

Preschool television shows use simple, repetitive narrative formats and bright colors to engage their audience.

Preschool television is expected to be “informational and educational.” Even now, when most parents of young children grew up watching TV themselves, there are still doubts about the worth of television. Preschool television, especially shows made by public television networks like PBS, gains funding by being educational and teaching specific skills. This sets it apart from most other television, since few fiction-based shows for adults are expected to teach the viewers skills, from phonics and rhyming to addition and subtraction.

dora the explorer and backpack and map

Dora addresses the audience directly, asking questions like “Where should we go next?” and pausing as if for an answer. This show is developmentally appropriate for young children because it encourages interactivity.

Preschool television operates under an “edutainment” model, and this dual purpose of education and entertainment is locked into every episode.

What does this have to do with fairy tales? Fairy tales are just entertainment, right? The fairy tale tradition is not as far removed from education as you might think. Fairy tales have been culture-making for as long as they’ve existed. When told in the oral tradition, fairy tales taught oral literacy, the skill of being able to listen and remember information.  More broadly, they are meant to teach what we care about and value as a group (beauty, ingenuity, hospitality).

black and white a family gathers around a fire outside

Stories around a fire, the pre-literate context and origin of all of our favorite traditional fairy tales.

When fairy tales were shifted into the nursery as children’s media with the Grimms and Andrew Lang in the 1800s, the role of the teaching shifted. Fairy tales were moral tales, using fear or rewards to teach children how to behave (don’t disobey your parents or you’ll be eaten by a witch).

cover of vintage children's and household tales Grimm's fairy tales

With the Die Kinder-und Haus-marchen (Children’s and Household Tales), and the Fairy Books of Andrew Lang, fairy tales were written down, illustrated, and marketed with a child audience in mind.

These two different models of education seem to be at odds. Preschool television is trying to teach reading and numbers, hard skills that will prepare its young audience for school. Fairy tales are involved in culture-making education, discussing values and morals and soft skills like sharing and asking nicely. I seek to find an answer to the following research question over the course of four case studies: Barney and Friends, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, and Super WHY!

How do preschool television shows use fairy tales in their educational missions?

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FTTV Takes Western States Folklore Society: 2018 Edition

The second week of April this year found the FTTV team in sunny Los Angeles, at the Otis College of Art and Design. Western States Folklore Society was having its 77th Annual Meeting, and we had been working on our panel for months. We applied as a complete panel, “Fantastic Realities of Fairy-Tale TV,” which gave us the opportunity to synthesize a panel that gave a diverse look at many different research approaches to studying fairy tale television.

Erica’s opening slide as Dr. Rudy, who served as our panel chair, introduces her

We had more attendees to our panel than expected, since there wasn’t another panel at the same time as us and we were the first panel on the first full day of the conference. Presenting in front of highly qualified folklorists can be intimidating, but the Q&A afterwards is always enlightening and adds new exiting layers to the research we’ve spent so much time polishing and forming. It was fun to get the input from folklorists who were unfamiliar with the digital humanities element, especially as a contrast to our experience at Digital Humanities Utah two months ago.

Ariel asking the hard-hitting questions of our entire project.

Our panel introduced our project as a whole and then we shared our research: Lauren on preschool television and edutainment, Erica on the fairy tale and media strategies that the British Royal family uses in connection with royal weddings, Cortlynd on the unexpected and lingering darkness of Revolting Rhymes, and Ariel with masculinity and monster transformations.

The whole team at Otis College! Lauren, Cortlynd, Dr. Rudy, Erica, and Ariel.

Though we unfortunately had to return home during the second day of the conference, the first day was full of panels on various elements of folklore, including Dr. Rudy’s presentation about folklorist’s career paths. We divided up for most panels and then chatted over lunch about what the others had missed, a foolproof strategy and the best reason to attend a conference with a close-knit team.

The conclusion of the Archer Taylor Keynote Lecture entitled “Trauma and Art Making” by Daniel Wojcik, connected well with the environment of the folklore conference being hosted by an art college, which was quite a different experience than attending at UC Berkeley two years ago.

The trip was a quick 2-day whirlwind, but we packed so much conference and learning into the short amount of time! It’s always such a thrill to share our research, check out the blog in coming weeks for updates on our individual projects!

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Fairy Tale Group Accepted to Present at Western States Folklore Society

Come join us for a run-through of our panel we are preparing to present at Western States Folklore Society conference in LA next month. We are so excited to present all of our hard work and would love feedback as we prepare to present at the conference. Our panel is titled Fantastic Realities of Fairy-Tale TV

B003 JFSB on April 6 from 3-5 pm

Check out our abstracts below to get excited for what we are presenting about!

The Princess and the Letter P: Fairy Tales and Edutainment in Preschool Television. Fairy tales have been used for teaching children for centuries. From oral and written literacy to moral lessons on honesty and sharing, fairy tales act as a vehicle for defining and creating the culture that uses them (Jack Zipes). Television uses fairy tales because they are powerful and well-known stories, but how are their didactic functions utilized? Preschool television is produced to be both entertainment and education, which separates it from most television. Preschool television teaches hard skills like counting and reading alongside the socialization in order to prepare children for school (Jeannette Steemers). What can we learn by studying the approach of shows like Sesame Street, Super Why!, Dora The Explorer, Sofia the First, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to fairy tales? I propose that preschool television use the narrative power, familiarity, and visual nature of fairy tales to produce programs that effectively teach children in a variety of ways.
–Lauren Redding

Prince Harry to Marry Sleeping Beauty: Royal Weddings and the Televised Fairy Tale. Since the 1840 wedding of Queen Victoria, British royal weddings have functioned as media spectacles and royal publicity stunts. Real life royal weddings are referred to in the media as fairy-tale weddings. Styling these weddings as fairy- tale events reduces fairy tales to three stereotypical elements: romance, royalty, and the “happily ever after.” Televised fairy tale adaptations on shows like Once Upon A Time look to royal weddings, such as Grace Kelly’s, for inspiration. With Prince Harry engaged to marry Meghan Markle, an American actress who once portrayed Sleeping Beauty, fairy tale television and real-life royalty are more intrinsically entwined than ever. I will argue that maintaining their fairy-tale image is advantageous to the British royal family, who would otherwise struggle to maintain their relevance in a world that currently has more Disney princesses than countries in Europe that still have monarchies.  — Erica Smith

Fairy Tale: A Dark Past and a Darker Future. In contrast to its bright animation and script full of rhyming couplets, 2016’s Revolting Rhymes (based on Roald Dahl’s poetry collection of the same name) could not be any further from traditional animated fairy tales. The violent and corrupt characters echo those found in dark, older versions of the tales, with which some viewers may be unfamiliar. While most adaptations focus on the catharsis of “happily ever after,” Rhymes is more lifelike—using the familiar genre of fairy tale to comment on issues of terror and modern anxieties. The show’s avoidance of the type of ending the viewer expects leaves a lingering sense of unease, evoking a connection to reality. Instead of wrapping up neatly in an epic showdown or a wedding (as fairy tales often do,) the show ends but never concludes, leaving the viewer to wait and wonder with Red Riding Hood: “will I ever feel safe again?” — Cortlynd Olsen

From Monster to Man: Animalistic Transformations of Male Protagonists in Fairy Tales on TV. Most fairy-tale protagonists on TV are female. Females star in most of the leading fairy-tale roles, from Once Upon a Time to Sofia the First. Snow White appears 294 times in our Fairy Tales on TV database, while Iron Henry/Frog King appears only nineteen times. However, except for Grimms’ Nick Burkhardt, men rarely appear on-screen as human protagonists: when men do appear, they are animalistic. This animalism usually serves to transform and develop the main character. Yet female transformation is minimal, as from a female worker to a female princess. Male transformation, on the other hand, is from monster to man. Does portraying males as talking animals make men less human? I propose that fairy-tale shows don’t necessarily need male tales to legitimize fairy tale studies; however, we must consider that domesticated and emasculated tales lend understanding to how we culturally value televised male protagonists. — Ariel Hubbard

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FTTV Visits Digital Humanities Utah

Snowy USU Campus

Two weeks ago, the FTTV team had the opportunity to attend DHU3, the Digital Humanities Utah conference. A quick trip up to Logan (even through the snow storm) was worth it to get to the conference generously hosted by Utah State University on February 23-24. It served as a great chance to meet people working in digital humanities, hear about their projects and ideas, and share about our own project.

“Problems and Possibilities”

Our presentation format as a roundtable enabled all the members of the team: mentors, students, and collaborators, to share a bit about their experience. Ariel Hubbard, our resident graduate student (who skillfully defended her thesis last month! Three cheers for Ariel!), shared about the history of our project, covering the beginning of the MEG and the twin-pillar objectives (education and research). From the digital humanities office, Tory Anderson showcased the database in all its glory, including the brand-new network graph visualization, and discussed the platform and strategy that he uses to keep the database running and to improve it. Dr. Rudy, our wonderful mentor, discussed the challenges and rewards of communicating between the English/Folklore sides of the project and the digital humanities elements to build a cohesive whole.

After Dr. Rudy, it was undergrad time, and Lauren Redding shared her experience with the first research presentation she did with this project in 2016.  Also, how her integration of digital humanities strategies into her research process affects the way she collaborates with Tory and Brian from the Office of Digital Humanities in this phase of the project. From there, Erica Smith shared what fairy tales can lend to digital humanities, mainly the relevance of connecting with current hot topics like the upcoming royal wedding between Prince Harry and Megan Markle. (Keep posted on this exciting topic, Erica is continuing research for a full-length presentation about the royal family, television, and fairy tales in April.)

To finish, Cortlynd Olsen discussed the project’s public engagement strategy of hosting events on campus. She shared our strategy of planning events like “Transformation of Beauty,” “Setting the Stage: Into the Woods,” and the annual Unbirthday Tea Party by engaging with movie releases, live productions, and favorite themes.

Tory, Lauren, Dr Rudy, Ariel, Erica, and Cortlynd, all proud of a successful presentation!

After we covered our material, we had an interesting discussion with attendees about next steps in improving relevancy and engagement of the front end of the project, and data-modeling and visualizations behind the scenes in the computer parts of it. We had some wonderful input from digital humanities-focused attendees, and the folklore department from USU. We are so grateful for the input that we received and we are energized for the future of the project! Aside from our presentation, we all learned so many unexpected and applicable things from the other panels and activities of the conference. Collaborative sessions and roundtables with scholars from other universities in Utah covered such a wide range of topics, which is still just a small slice of everything digital humanities can do and cover. (Feel free to browse #dhu3 and #dhutah on Twitter to see some of the great ideas and topics of the conference) We are more ready than ever to improve our project and to dive into our preparations for Western States Folklore Society’s Annual Meeting this April!

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Unbirthday Tea Party: “We’re All Mad Here” Event Recap

Our 4th annual Unbirthday Tea Party brought in a wide variety of Alice fans and fairy tale fans alike. Everyone knows that our research team is mad about fairy tales, and we wanted to share that passion by discussing the portrayal of madness in Alice in Wonderland adaptations across time.

As the audience enjoyed tea and cookies, Erica and Lauren tag-teamed their way through a discussion of the original novel and early film adaptations, then followed up with an overview of 60s drug culture (including the parties where college students would drop acid  during double features of Disney’s Fantasia and Alice in Wonderland)  and the effect that it had on the way madness was understood. Instead of being whimsical or silly, madness was connected to drug culture–a connection that is still pervasive.

Our presenters then led us on a scavenger hunt through the FTTV database. We looked for the oldest Alice adaptation in the database, for other characters that have visited wonderland, and for television episodes we have actually watched, along with several other things to help familiarize the audience with the database and all it offers.

We wrapped up with a discussion of TV adaptations of Alice in Wonderland, the way modern adaptations tend to see madness as a sign of mental health issues, and loose adaptations of Alice as well as other ways we still feel the influence of Alice and her mad adventures today.

We had a ton of fun at this event, and look forward to our future events with you!

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UnBirthday Tea Party: “We’re All Mad Here”

Join us at 3pm on Friday, January 26th, for our Annual UnBirthday Tea Party! We are in our fourth consecutive year of UnBirthday Parties, and it’s one of our favorite events! Bring your own tea cup (or mug) to the FLAC in B003 JFSB to learn and chat about all things Alice related. We’ll supply the tea and cookies (no promises as to whether they make you grow or shrink). In the past, we’ve had presentations about large-scale live-action movie adaptations and what that means for our project with Fairy Tale Television, facts about the various adaptations, this story’s resonance with culture through time, and celebrations of new versions of our database!

This year, team member Erica has planned material playing off her research on madness and Alice. Erica is our resident Once Upon a Time expert, so expect lots of great OUATness, and a lot of unexpected connections with music, pop culture, and current and past television. You have no idea how much Alice in Wonderland we can pack into an hour-long activity.

Come explore, down the magical rabbit hole of the FTTV Database where what you find is often nothing like what you expected, and we’re all mad. Mad for fairy tales!

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Prince Harry to Marry Former Sleeping Beauty

Meghan Markle as Sleeping Beauty

Meghan Markle as Sleeping Beauty

Five years before Prince Harry proposed, Meghan Markle was already a fairy tale princess. The American actress, best known for her role as Rachel Zane on the legal drama Suits, guest starred as Sleeping Beauty in a 2012 episode of the crime drama Castle.

In the episode “Once Upon A Crime,” (season 4, episode 17), Markle’s character kills a man in a hit-and-run while leaving a fairy tale-themed costume party. She then kills two witnesses to her crime, leaving them dressed as Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White. When sleuth Castle realizes she’s connected to the murders, Markle dons a Sleeping Beauty costume, drugs herself, and pretends to have narrowly escaped a fairy tale serial killer. She’s eventually caught and the episode closes with Castle and his partner, Detective Beckett, discussing the horrific consequences of the murders, as well as the appeal of fairy tales.

“That’s why we need fairy tales,” Beckett says. “In the face of too much reality, to remind us that happy endings are possible.”

In America, princes and princesses are creatures of fairy tale, like witches and unicorns. In Europe, they’re still a part of reality. Royal weddings, especially British ones, are global television sensations. An estimated 23 million US viewers tuned in to Harry’s older brother’s wedding with millions more watching worldwide.

Prince William kisses his bride for the audience

Prince William kisses his bride for the audience

When American actresses like Grace Kelly and Meghan Markle wed princes, the line between motion picture fantasy and royal reality blurs. Grace Kelly set the fairy tale wedding standard for generations to come when she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956. When Emma Swan walked down the aisle in the sixth season of Once Upon A Time this year, her dress was a clear shout-out to Princess Grace. Though Grace Kelly was a real, modern princess, and her acting career was not fairy tale related, her royal status is enough to associate her with fantasy in the minds of viewers.

Grace Kelly (left) and Emma Swan (right)

Grace Kelly (left) and Emma Swan (right)

Just as royal weddings inspire TV depictions of fairy tale weddings, the romances of real life royals have inspired entire series. Netflix’s award-winning period drama, The Crown is particularly relevant to Markle, as it’s based on the lives of her future in-laws. The Crown chronicles Queen Elizabeth’s early reign, romance, and family relationships, much of which parallel to the rise of television in the 1950’s. In an incredibly meta fashion, several episodes of the series deal with the strains of living life for the cameras.

Elizabeth, who quarrels often with her husband, is caught on film and hurling sports equipment at him in episode eight. When she realizes hovering journalists have caught the whole thing, she manages to convince them to get rid of the film. Her younger sister Margaret doesn’t escape media scrutiny so easily.

Both Margaret and her uncle, King Edward VIII, fell in love with divorced people, making their romances scandalous by early 20th century standards. Edward had to forsake his throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson. At least he was fortunate enough to meet and marry her in the pre-TV 1930’s. Margaret’s romance with Captain Peter Townsend played out on television in the 1950’s, and nowadays, Markle and Prince Harry had to camp in Botswana to fall in love in peace.  

Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend as portrayed by Vanessa Kirby and Ben Miles on The Crown

Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend as portrayed by Vanessa Kirby and Ben Miles on The Crown

During Elizabeth’s episode five coronation–the first televised coronation in British history–Margaret is caught on camera brushing a piece of fluff from Townsend’s jacket. Video proof of forbidden love? That’s not something Uncle Edward ever had to deal with. After trying and failing for years to secure Elizabeth’s permission to marry Townsend, Margaret ends the relationship herself, as portrayed in the season finale. In the second season, which drops tomorrow (December 8th), Margaret goes on rebound and will eventually have the first televised royal wedding.


Though The Crown shows that royal romances don’t always end with a happily ever after, viewers still speak of their unions as fairy tale weddings and want to see royal couples as the personification of true love. If Meghan Markle, a divorced, biracial, American actress, can wed into the royal family, true love and happily ever after are more accessible than ever before.

The royal families of Britain and Monaco inspire television shows while also grafting actresses into their family trees. In 2017, the boundaries between fairytale TV and royal reality are coming down. Emma Swan raids Grace Kelly’s closet and Sleeping Beauty is marrying Prince Harry. The Crown made much of Elizabeth II’s historic decision to televise her 1953 coronation, but now audiences expect royal events, including weddings, to be broadcast worldwide. They might not have fairy godmothers or happily ever afters, but that doesn’t stop modern audiences from looking to royals for the real-life embodiment of fairy tale archetypes.

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Setting The Stage: Into the Woods Recap


Libby Lloyd’s Cinderella sans her shoes

Last week, our Fairy Tale Research Team, led by Dr. Jill Rudy, joined forces with the cast of BYU’s production of Into the Woods. Fairy tale fans and theater aficionados alike turned out to compete in fairy tale trivia, play “Match the Emojis to the Tale,” watch fairy tale inspired music videos, and munch cream puffs and bagel bites. Some lucky attendees walked away with free Into the Woods tickets after winning a raffle. With more than fifty in attendance, this was one of the FTTV project’s most successful events to date. After the treats and games, we migrated into a nearby auditorium for musical numbers and fairy tale presentations.

Dramaturg, Production Team, and Cast for Panel Discussion

Dramaturg, Production Team, and Cast for Panel Discussion

Dramaturg Amelia Johnson, known on this blog for her guest posts, kicked off the second portion of the event with a quick intro to fairy tale theory before turning the time over to the rest of the cast for songs.

Rapunzel safe in her tower with the witch and her hair.

Rapunzel safe in her tower with the witch and her hair.

Madison Dennis and Ellora Lattin, playing The Witch and Rapunzel, began with “Our Little World,” a comical mother-daughter number, where a chair stood in for the elaborate tower of the set. The Witch has shielded her stolen daughter from the outside world for her entire life, and Rapunzel is okay with this arrangement — although she does wish her mother weren’t so unsightly.

Cortlynd Olsen presenting fairy tale findings prepared with team member Preston Wittwer

Cortlynd Olsen presenting fairy tale findings prepared with team member Preston Wittwer

 Cortlynd Olsen followed this with a presentation on the cultural context of Into the Woods’ stage debut as well as the inspiration and production history of the 2014 film. These ranged from the expected (Disney’s live action reboot spree) to the surprising (a 2011 speech where then-President Obama inadvertently quoted the musical).


Cinderella, perpetually shoeless

Next, Cinderella (Libby Lloyd) found her glass slippers (or rather, cheetah print heels) stuck in pitch on the steps of the palace. In this number she debates the pros and cons of marrying a prince she’s only known for a few days, and who thinks trapping his would-be wife in sticky pitch is a good way to start a relationship. After Cinderella pried her heels up, Lauren Redding took the stage for a presentation on mash-ups, adaptation concepts, and deconstruction. Deconstruction is particularly pertinent to the overall concept of Into the Woods, where wishes bring their own set of problems and consequences come into play after intermission.


Agony! with Preston Taylor (left, Cinderella’s Prince) and Benjamin Raymant (right, Rapunzel’s Prince)

 Last but not least, Rapunzel and Cinderella’s princes fought to out-whine each other in “Agony.” Life’s rough when your title, good looks, and charm aren’t enough keep the girl of your dreams from ditching you at midnight. But then, loving a maiden who can’t leave her tower is agonizing in its own way. Who has it worse? “Agony” is one of the most popular songs from the musical, a surefire crowd-pleaser, and our audience was no exception. Everyone laughed aloud at the princes’ melodramatic antics, enjoying the informal setting that allowed them to perform without mics or costumes.

After the brothers grudgingly admitted that there’s more than one way to be luckless in love, the entire cast was invited onstage for a panel discussion. Questions ranged from the complexities of fairy tale character archetypes in the context of well-known stage and screen precedent, to the struggles of depicting an an annoying, pompous Prince Charming.

All in all, this event saw a great turnout, provoke thoughtful panel questions, and raised excitement for our theater friends’ upcoming production, which will open November 17 and run until December 9. We hope to do future Setting The Stage events that will be just as delightful!

Special Thanks to the cast that attended the event and contributed to our panel!
Amanda Crawley, Hannah Pyper Dalley, Madison Dennis, Casey Greenwood, Ellora Lattin, Chelsea Mortensen, Benjamin Raymant, Joseph Swain, Preston Taylor, and Channing Weir



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Dramaturgy Guest Post: From Grimm to the Woods

This post was originally published on The 4th Wall, the dramaturgy blog of the BYU Theatre and Media Arts Department. We at FTTV partnered with the cast, director, and dramaturgy team of BYU’s production of Into The Woods to host an exciting event on November 8th that dove into context, meaning, and stage/screen adaptations of fairy tales. Prepare for the production or get a taste of what you missed at the event here.

From Grimm to The Woods

by Amelia Johnson, Dramaturg

The inspiration for Into the Woods came because Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine wanted to create a show that blended several stories. They did not originally intend to use fairy tales, but these stories have played an important role in many people’s lives.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Though there have been many storytellers, it was the Brothers Grimm who popularized these stories. Growing up, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were able to get a good education. Because they kept to themselves, the brothers became very close. Jacob and Wilhelm also gained a great love for folk tales. Eventually, they collected and published these stories in Children’s and Household Tales in 1812. The stories were aimed toward children as children’s stories were becoming a more popular form of literature. In later editions of their book, the stories were made even more family friendly as the original tales received some criticism due to some gory details.

The Grimm's Die Kinder-Und Hausmarchen, or Children's and Household Tales

The Grimm’s Die Kinder-Und Hausmarchen, or Children’s and Household Tales

Although there are several variations of the fairy tales that the Brothers Grimm collected, there are common themes: villains, heroes, and personal obstacles that are eventually overcome. The lives of the heroes in the stories are far from perfect, but they work through their challenges and are then able to find happily ever after.


Living in perfect bliss for the rest of one’s life is a little unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean that what the fairy tale characters go through has no value. Into the Woods explores what happens after ever after. Our lives will have challenges and joyous moments at different times. However, as long as we remember that things can get better, and keep moving forward, we, as our favorite fairy tale characters, will always find moments to be happy in our ever after.


Thanks Amelia! Our FTTV team is always interested in mediated fairy tales on the stage, big screen, and small screen. Into the Woods is also a great example of a fairy tale mash-up that uses strategies from our research, using more tales in a mash-up earlier than any in our database. Did Into The Woods impact these trends? These are the kind of questions we love to ask at FTTV! 

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