Rose Caiola’s Play Freckleface Strawberry Is Bringing Awareness To Bullying Through The Beauty Of The Arts

Rose Caiola is being the change she wants to see in the world. As the Founder and Executive Artistic Director of The Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, Rose has created a creative, educational and supportive environment for dancers of all backgrounds. Now, the humanitarian is the driving force behind the smash hit Freckleface Strawberry, an adorable play based on the popular children’s book by actress Julianne Moore. We spoke with Rose about MMAC, the arts and why all differences should be celebrated.

Let’s talk a bit about your background.

I’m the Founder and Executive Artistic Director of the Manhattan Movement & Arts Center and the Manhattan Youth Ballet, which I started 15 years ago. I have danced my whole life. My trainer was Maestro Zsednyi, a big star in the Royal Hungarian Opera Ballet; he was my mentor. He inspired me to open my own school. I had also studied acting, and had been doing both acting and dancing for a while. I always had a desire to create and produce and offer creative opportunities to other people. As a girl, I would have loved to have found a school where not only the discipline was created with professional training, but also with a nurturing feeling. I never really found that, so I decided to create that myself with MMAC.

It’s great that you were able to create that environment that you had wished for as a girl.

Our dancers support and encourage each other. They will come back and they train, and they will also teach the young ones. Their family becomes the studio. We teach them that it’s not about developing technique but being a valued member of the community.

As a member of the arts community, you are actively involved with creating opportunities for underprivileged children to have art in their lives.

We have done a tremendous amount of outreach. We’ve been able to provide scholarships to kids. We’ve seen kids in foster care who are now dancing in great ballet companies.

Now how did Freckleface Strawberry The Musical come to be?

I wanted to make the book part of our outreach series at MMAC. The message of the book is incredible; the celebration of being different. The focus of the book is on the young Julianne Moore (who wrote the book), but the other kids in the book were all different shapes and colors and sizes. I thought I could build out an ensemble that a lot of different types of kids could relate to. When I developed it with 24 children in my own theater at MMAC, I was inspired. Many industry people came to see it with these non-professional kids performing, and thought it was great. The message is tremendous, the songs are fun, and the choreography is amazing. Julianne Moore saw it at every developmental stage; she had to see the script before giving me the rights and the option to produce it.

What was her reaction to it?

She’s been on board 100%. She loves the production value; she’s been behind us all the way through.

Freckleface Strawberry recently opened. What has been the response to the play?

It’s been absolutely wonderful. I really feel like the audience is getting what we’re trying to do. The image of the show is a young girl — the young Julianne Moore — so some people might think it’s a show just for girls, but it’s not. It’s a real ensemble show about all different types of kids. It’s a show for all ages; even the parents are having a good time, singing along to the songs. It’s always exciting to see response of the crowd.

And tonight’s performance is a special one in conjunction with the Police Athletic League. Let’s talk about that.

PAL is a wonderful organization. We’ve done shows with them before. The kids are a variety of ages, and all great. This is the type of show they can relate to. They might not have red hair and freckles, but the show teaches kids that being different is something to celebrate.

With bullying being such a hot button topic right now, Freckleface Strawberry seems to be the one play that directly addresses this issue.

Bullying has always been present and I’m happy to provide a vehicle to show kids that teasing can be coped with. There’s no reason that kids have to go home with a burden in their heart about being different. Those differences make the world rich. They’ll get to see what Freckleface goes through, and what the other kids go through, because she’s not the only one who gets teased. Julianne Moore expressed to me that she wanted the show to remain on the level of kids that age. We made sure that the actors were steeped in the reality of the show, and the simplicity of childhood. This way, they could express how kids of that age deal with these problems.

You’re a mom to two boys. How do you balance work with mommyhood?

I have two boys, a 3 year-old and a 7 year-old, the same age as Freckleface. Everything I do is for them. Once you become a mother, that’s your priority. I find that a lot of the work that I do is reflected in my kids’ eyes. Are they moved by it? Are they touched by it? All the work I’ve done with MMAC over the years has been devoted to family theater, and children’s charity. As for Freckleface, my kids love the show so much. They relate to the characters. My son has told me that on occasion he’s been teased. I tell him, “Look at Freckleface, and look what her friends went through on the playground. You may not be good at that thing, but you’re good at something else.” This is the age when teasing starts. Kids can get a little cruel. They have to have a strong inner confidence, and that comes from the home. Parents have to help instill good values and self-confidence in their children.

Or you tell the parents to come see Freckleface Strawberry!

[laughs] That’s right. Everyone should come see the show! We have to remember that all kids on the playground are different, and that’s a good thing.

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