Friday, February 6, 2015

a chat with David Chorley, director and writer of the world premiere of THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES at Valley Youth Theatre

Wil Arends as the Emperor
in The Emperor's New Clothes
by Gil Benbrook

Valley Youth Theatre is presenting their first original play in over twenty years, the World Premiere of a new comic version of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes. Written and directed by VYT alum, and Arizona native David Chorley, we took a few moments to talk to Chorley about his adaptation, his experiences in working with the young cast, as well as his history with Valley Youth Theatre.

As far as the plot of The Emperor’s New Clothes goes, Andersen’s original tale followed the story of a vain Emperor who cares for nothing more than parading about in the finest clothes.  Two weavers make him believe they’ve made him the finest suit in the land out of invisible thread that can only be seen by people worthy enough to see it so the royal court and the townspeople go along with the charade, afraid to be seen as unintelligent.  However, the classic tale is getting a whole new modern update by Chorley.

David Chorley in VYT's 2001 production
of Grease
Chorley’s history with Valley Youth Theatre goes back to when he was 16 and it was Bobb Copper’s first year directing at VYT.  Chorley adds, “I had called the theatre inquiring about auditions for a different show. Bobb asked me to come down and audition for the show they were currently rehearsing for, West Side Story and that’s how my relationship with VYT began. Several alumni from that production have gone on to work for VYT, including Julia Tilley (who was Maria) who is now a full-time employee there.”  Chorley would go on to appear in many Valley Youth productions, including playing Vince Fontaine in three different productions of Grease as well as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so he has a long history of working with Bobb Copper.  Chorley adds that Copper was instrumental in developing his comic skills as well as in helping him with the comic elements of the Emperor’s script, “Bobb is a really funny guy, and he has a knack for bringing the funny out of you. He had a tremendous amount of trust in me and encouraged me to not hold back when it comes to comedy. He trusts me 100% and that goes a long way. I credit much of my development in comedy to my time with him at VYT.”

Chorley in Mesa Encore Theatre's 2014 production of Oliver!
(photo credit: Sarah Rodgers)
Originally from Arizona, Chorley moved to California and appeared in and directed several successful productions while there as well as is a member of Improv Shmimprov, one of the most successful improv troupes in Southern California. He moved back to the Phoenix area in 2012 and in the past year he has appeared in the All Puppet Players/Nearly Naked Theatre production of Fifty Shades of Felt, Mesa Encore Theatre’s Big River and just a few months ago played Fagin in their production of Oliver!

(Back: l. to r.) Megan Cutler, Ronald Tang, Haley Coles;
(Front: l. to r.) Bryan Namba and Tracey Tang in
VYT's 2001 production of The Emperor's New Clothes -
directed by David Chorley

He previously directed The Emperor’s New Clothes  for VYT back in 2001, when he was just 21, which was a Japanese themed Kabuki production.  When Copper asked him to direct the play again, Chorley couldn’t find a version that he liked so Copper, VYT’s Producing Artistic Director, suggested he write his own version.  Chorley adds that he was a bit surprised that most people in the cast didn’t even know the plot of the original fairy tale. Though he adds, in his adaptation, “the very basic plot points still remain but this new production contains about 95% new story and characters. It’s been compared to Shrek: The Musical in a lot of ways – it takes place long, long ago but is filled with zany and contemporary jokes.”

Kaila Inman, Ian Gray, Wil Arends and Carly McClain in
VYT's 2015 production of The Emperor's New Clothes
As far as writing his first original play, Chorley states, “I thought the hardest part about writing the show would be coming up with an entertaining plot and characters. I actually couldn’t believe how easily those elements came to me. What I actually found to be challenging was taking the story and making it funnier. I had known from day one that I wanted to make it a comedy and so working jokes in while not making it a total gag-fest was tough and a bit difficult. As you know, all jokes don’t work, so even in the rehearsal process jokes are being added and removed at a rapid pace. I also found it a bit challenging making sure that there were jokes in the script for all ages. Jokes that small children would love, teenagers, parents and grandparents.”  Though he does admit “I was only about halfway through writing the scripts when we had auditions. Once I had my actors in place, my brain suddenly began working double-time and the writing process soon turned into writing the show around the actors I had. I tossed out two really important characters and a significant plot point in favor of writing new material for specific actors.  In fact, I wrote a character especially for one of them. Also, many of the actor’s physical traits and special talents were written into the script as well. Very unusual process, but boy is it effective. Several jokes were also added based on the crew and Bobb has been particularly helpful in adding and fine-tuning the humor.  This has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my theatrical career.”

Ian Gray in VYT's 2015
production of The Emperor's New Clothes

However, Chorley is not only the writer and director but also the sound designer for the production.  When asked how he’s balancing all three he adds, “This has been the most work I have ever put into a single production. I cannot possibly calculate how many hours have gone into it. I’ve worked on this show several hours a day for three months solid. I say this with a great deal of love though, as I would only put that much time into something I was truly passionate about. As for wearing all three hats, in some ways it’s easier and in some ways it’s harder. It’s easier because as I wrote the show, I blocked it in my head. Or if I really want to use a piece of music, I find a way to write it in. It’s harder because now that we are about to open I find myself to be very attached to certain things, and when it comes down to cutting things or ditching jokes, the writing side of me says ‘NOOOO!’ but the director side of me says ‘SHUT-UP!! CUT IT!!!’ They mostly get a long though”

Though he's extremely busy, he’s also enjoyed working with the young, talented cast.  “I approached the cast in a very similar way that Bobb approached me as a young comedian. Don’t hold back in comedy. I encouraged my actors to bring their funny out. Don’t do these because I think it’s funny, do things because YOU think it’s funny. If it ends up not working, okay, but I really wanted to see what they could bring to the table in terms of comedy. I think every one of my actors added a joke or two to the show in some way. Constantly amazes me how funny they all are.”

And while he wants people to find the humor in the production, he knows there is more to the be taken away from the story.  He thinks that parents might leave the theatre thinking to themselves, “Wow, I did not expect to laugh that much!” But, he adds “behind all the jokes and silliness I did work hard to make sure that there was a special message relayed to the children that could and should be applied to their everyday lives.”

The Emperor's New Clothes at Valley Youth Theatre runs through February 22nd.  Tickets can be purchase by calling 602.253.8188 x2 or ordering online at

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