MNfusion: CTC’s Shinah Brashears Talks Upcoming ‘Elephant & Piggie’

"Kids have no rules when they come to see a show. They will give you the most honest reactions."

It’s often said that opposites attract.

Several examples in literature and film show how conflicting personalities can help balance each other out, or push each other to grow.

This is the basis of Mo Willem’s literary work, the series “Elephant & Piggie.”

The popular series features Elephant Gerald, a “pessimistic pachyderm” and Piggie, his “perky pal.” In the series, the two tackle issues kids face in everyday life, such as how to handle anger or deal with sadness.

Now, Willem’s series is coming to life in a new musical, “Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play!”

The unlikely pair is heading to the stage in a national tour which opens at Minneapolis’ Children’s Theatre Company.

Local CTC actress Shinah Brashears is taking on the role of Piggie for the entirety of the tour.

She spoke about how she joined the tour, what it’s like to perform in her home town and how the two characters emulate one of Minnesota’s most popular cartoons – Peanuts.

Being that you are a local actor, can you talk a bit about how you got involved with this national tour?

Brashears: I got involved with the national tour thanks to Sheena Janson (CTC Casting Director) who sent my info to the Kennedy Center casting team. From there, I was asked to send in a few audition videos and the rest is history!

Although I’m sure there was a bit of a process, you make it sound so easy! What a wonderful experience, though. This show will travel all around the country, but opens in Minnesota. Tell me, what is it like to perform a national tour in your home-theater town?

Brashears: I think it is probably the best possible scenario to have a national tour make a stop in your home town. I get to open this fantastically fun show in the comfort of friends and family, but then get to travel the U.S. without being away from my husband and dogs for too long!

I can imagine it gets hard to be away from family! But it must be exciting to get to travel. Is there a city, outside of Minneapolis, that you are most excited to visit on the tour?

Brashears: I am most excited to visit the state of Florida for a couple weeks because it will be in December and I will get to miss a couple weeks of freezing Twin Cities weather! I am also very excited to visit Mesa, Arizona because I have a lot of family there that I don’t get to see enough!

Both of those sound very warm! I’m sure all Minnesotans can agree that will be a nice time to be out of state. So, tell me a little bit about the show. What is your favorite scene?

Brashears: My favorite part of the show is “Elephant in the Room.” I adore this part of the show because you get to see an entire arc of how strong the relationship is between Elephant Gerald and Piggie.

Sounds like that must be very fun to act out too. Tell me, what is the most challenging thing about this show?

Brashears: I think the most challenging thing about this show is that it is a marathon! These characters go through every emotion in just about an hour and it is wonderfully exhausting.

Playwright Mo Willems said that Elephant Gerald and Piggie were created with the Peanuts characters in mind – how do you think Elephant and Piggie embody Peanuts?

Brashears: I think they embody the Peanuts [characters] because they are not 100 percent happy-go-lucky at all points in their relationships and with their lives. These cartoon characters are allowed to have real feelings just like the Peanuts characters.

I think that is definitely a defining part of what makes the Peanuts characters different from other cartoons. With that in mind, it sounds like Elephant and Piggie tackle a number of issues that kids face in rea life in the show. If you had to, what would you say the overarching message of the show is?

Brashears: I think the overall question is how do you handle something you don’t expect?

That is one of the things I love about children’s theater – that it tackles important but yet very basic life questions. What is it you like about doing children’s theater?

Brashears: I love doing children’s theater because kids have no rules when they come to see a show. They will give you the most honest reactions.

How is performing for children different than performing for adults?

Brashears: Like Willems said, “Funny is funny and not to talk down to kids.” I think that in performing for children we need to remember to play the honesty just like we do for adults!

A very good point! So, what do you hope audience members, young and old, take away from the show?

Brashears: I hope the audience takes away from this show whatever they need. Whether it be reassurance that no matter how different two people are, you can still be great friends, or how to problem solve when everything seems to be going wrong. There are so many little life lessons in this show so I am sure people will take away different things.

Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play!” opens Sept. 13 and runs through Oct. 23. Tickets cost $15 to $64. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit the Children’s Theatre Company online.

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