Really Retro: Lisa Stock Explores an Older, Darker Side of Fairy Tales in Her Play of Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES

Carrie Anne Hunt as the Snow White Princess in Lisa Stock's play of Neil Gaiman's SNOW, GLASS, APPLES, which opens Aug. 24.

SNOW WHITE has a reputation for being a cheery story about a cute princess and seven mostly affable dwarves, but the only time I ever hid my eyes in a movie as a child was when the evil stepmother queen transforms herself into a hideous wicked witch in the Walt Disney version. Trust author Neil Gaiman (SANDMAN, AMERICAN GODS) to cleverly latch onto the darker side of that familiar tale and consider that mere jealousy might not be sufficient motive to drive the queen to murder by poisoned apple. And maybe the prince wasn’t exactly your normal kind of hero either. “I was reading Neil Philip‘s [PENGUIN BOOK OF] ENGLISH FOLKTALES, and a rereading of a version of SNOW WHITE made me stop and wonder what kind of person she was, and what kind of person sees a dead girl in a glass coffin and wants to keep her…,” Neil said in an email last week when asked what led him to write the short story, SNOW, GLASS, APPLES. Now Snow White’s white skin, blood-red lips and coffin-sleeping take on a new meaning with disturbing erotic implications, and the queen becomes a protagonist with a difficult moral choice.

Lisa Stock. Photo credit: Jaclyn Cook.

Originally published as a benefit book for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in 1994, SNOW, GLASS, APPLES captured the imagination of so many readers that it was reprinted in two anthologies—TWICE BITTEN: LOVE IN VEIN II (1997), edited by Poppy Z. Brite, and Neil’s own collection SMOKE AND MIRRORS (1998). One of those readers was Lisa Stock, who like the storytellers of old, had her own thoughts about taking the tale in a new direction from page to stage. Through a few mutual friends, the then-New York-based writer/director for theater and film politely asked Neil nicely for a chance to have some fun with his story of bloodlust and mistrust. Charmed by her vision, the idea of seeing his creation come to life and the fact that all proceeds would benefit charity (East Atlanta Community Association), he granted her wish. “I love live theatre,” Neil said. “There’s a magic you cannot get from anything else when it’s good.”

While this real-life fairy tale so far may seem more CINDERELLA, it’s Atlanta audiences that really are the lucky ones. SNOW, GLASS, APPLES has its world premiere here Wed. Aug. 24 through Sun. Aug. 28 in the unusual venue of the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, re-envisioned by Lisa as a dreamlike Spring Fair. Artists and photographers also will have a chance to draw and photograph cast members in costume and preview the phantasmagoric sets during a Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School Atlanta field trip on Mon. Aug. 22. Performances are rated “R” for simulated violence and adult themes, but a special family-friendly show will be held Aug. 28 at 6 p.m.

ATLRetro recently caught up with Lisa to find out more about what drew her to the dark story, crafting a truly unique audience experience, why it’s the perfect fit for a Dr. Sketchy and a little about her other mythic projects, including the upcoming independent feature film TITANIA.

For those unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES, without giving away too much, how is it different from the Disney version of SNOW WHITE we grew up with? And more like the original darker versions that date back to Medieval times?
For me, Neil Gaiman’s version reflects the earliest forms of the tale, some [of which] trace back to the myth of Persephone (eating pomegranate seeds and falling into a half-life in the Underworld). The tales were originally much darker in nature and true morality tales. SNOW, GLASS, APPLES for me is just that—a cautionary tale about trusting or mistrusting your instincts. It’s also about self-preservation in a brutal world, and how you deal with the choices that have been handed to you. Our protagonist doesn’t get saved and have all that’s hers by birthright returned to her. She makes her own decisions—for better or worse—and goes out to protect, on her own, what she holds dear.

How did you discover SNOW, GLASS, APPLES and what drew you personally to the story?
I discovered SNOW, GLASS, APPLES through a haunting illustration by Sarah Coleman of the princess that led me back to Neil’s story. I love new perspectives on old tales and those that speak to human instincts. Instincts are such a basic, fundamental part of being human, and yet we often ignore them. The Queen does that in this tale; I’ve done that more times than I can count. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve been defeated. We all have. And I think this short story brings out a side of us we may not want to own up to—it talks about fear and failure, but also responsibility and integrity. Though Neil has made the Queen the protagonist, she hasn’t lost any of her edge or her darkness. Instead, with the perspective in her corner, we recognize that in ourselves.

I also love all the visual reminders of her fear in the story: the vampiric princess who keeps coming back to life, the princess’ heart strung above her bed, the forest folk disappearing, nothing is as it seems, reminders to look deeper. Think about it. What are you afraid of? It takes up a lot of your time and space. That’s our nature. And in Neil’s story, the Queen goes out to do something about her fear; whether she’s successful or not, she tries to survive it. Was it the right thing to do or not—that’s for each of us to decide.

An apple passes from Queen to stepdaughter in Neil Gaiman' SNOW, GLASS, APPLES. Photo courtesy of Lisa Stock.

SNOW GLASS APPLES also has been a radio play. Is there any connection between that or is this a completely separate adaptation?
This is a completely separate adaptation that I wrote from Neil’s short story, which is told in the first person. I’ve brought many of the characters briefly mentioned in the short story to life, such as the Huntsman, and have made the Lord of the Fair a larger role. However, much of Neil’s original dialogue and text remains.

Your staging isn’t the conventional sit down and watch performers on a stage. Can you talk about that and why you went with this different approach?
I love to work in public spaces and use them in new ways. I’m deeply influenced by the work of groups like Artichoke out of London. There is a Spring Fair mentioned in the short story, so I decided to set the play in the Fair, by using the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market. The audience will literally walk into the tale, and the play will be going on all around them. Our public spaces are for more than just commerce and traffic; they’re for community and gathering and art and expression. And so not only is Neil’s story giving a new perspective on a well-known fairy tale, but perhaps we’ll give audience members a new perspective on a small part of the world they’re familiar with—that being the farmer’s market.

Do I recall that the unusual chorus came about as a way to address a challenge in adapting the narrative to live theatre?
I love my Forest Chorus! I have three actresses portraying the forest. They will hold branches and wear crowns made from them. They act like a traditional Greek chorus in that they comment on the action of the play, but through movement, rather than epic poetry. They hold no loyalties to any of the characters, only to the forest.

For me, the Forest in fairy tales has always been such a strong character unto itself. And Neil has created a very mysterious one in SNOW, GLASS, APPLES. Even though we know what is causing the disappearance of the forest folk, you feel the forest allowing it to happen, you feel the peril of those trying to cross the forest to get to the Spring Fair, and wonder what else is in there. I wanted to bring that to life, to highlight certain iconic moments in the play such as the Prince’s Tale, or when the Queen gives the poison apple to the Princess. The Chorus will also guide the audience at times too, encouraging them to move closer—or move out of the way!

Lisa Stock. Photo credit: Jaclyn Cook.

People often think of fairy tales as family fare, but there’s a strong current of eroticism and sexuality in the story. You do have a special family-friendly performance on Sunday. What should parents know?
We are strongly cautioning parents in regards to the play. The opening scene is rather brutal and bloody, and there are themes, dialogue and ideas conveyed throughout of a decidedly adult nature: sex, violence, and unnatural relationships. We are performing a family-friendly show on Sunday at 6 p.m., and will trim away all of the most objectionable moments and dialogue, but it will still be frightening. Snow White is essentially a vampire and dies more than once. But we’re going to do our best to tell Neil’s tale and welcome everyone to the 6 p.m. performance.

Is there anything you’d like to share about the cast, sets, costumes, music, directing challenges, etc.?
I’m absolutely thrilled to be working with Jen Parrish again for this play. Jen makes “mythic” jewelry—each piece tells its own story. You’ve seen Jen’s work on TV (UGLY BETTY, 30 ROCK), in films (HARRY POTTER) and in museums. She studied the SNOW, GLASS, APPLES story and script to create the pendants you’ll see the actors wear and use, and also the Queen’s crown. I keep things simple in terms of sets, costumes, lighting, but I pay a lot attention to small details. Each element of my production has to help the actors tell the story. I seem to do all my work outdoors—whether play or film. And it’s kind of hard to compete with Mother Nature, so, as is fitting to a fairy tale, I let my sets, costumes and actors be influenced by nature.

You’re also planning a Dr. Sketchy’s field trip with the cast on set. A mythic play seems a bit different from the usual Dr. Sketchy’s subjects—burlesque performers, belly dancers, circus, fetish. What can you share about that and what kinds of imagery artists and photographers will be able to capture?
I help run Dr. Sketchy’s Atlanta with Lori VanVoorhis (my costume designer for the show). We love our group of artists and wanted to give them the opportunity to bring SNOW, GLASS, APPLES to life for themselves and put it down on paper. They will be getting a first look at the show, the setting, lights, costumes. The actors will create vignettes from the play—everything from the attack on the princess to the Forest Chorus laying her to rest. And as always we’ll have contests, prizes and other treats!

Proceeds benefit the East Atlanta Community Association (EACA). Could you tell us a little bit about why that charity and the good stuff they do?
I was introduced to EACA by Lori and am thrilled to help a community that is so active in making their world a better place. Their mission statement reads: “The purpose of EACA shall be to promote a high quality of life for all residents of East Atlanta regardless of race, age, sex, or economic status. EACA encourages well planned residential and business development, and the renovation of existing dwellings and businesses. EACA insists on a safe community where residents do not fear crime or an environment of intimidation. EACA requires that the Atlanta Public School System meets the broad educational needs of the Community. EACA seeks for its residents the highest quality of city services. Above all, EACA seeks the development of a sense of community pride and belonging within the East Atlanta community.”

You’ve been active in New York theatre for a long time. What brought you to Atlanta and what do you feel about the theatre scene here, which is so much smaller?
I was in NYC for 20 years. But sometimes you need to leave Gotham to get your head out of the “industry” and back into your creativity. That’s what I’m planning to do here. I’ve only seen a few plays in Atlanta since moving here less than a year ago, but look forward to seeing more. What I have seen is wonderful; the work really stands as a unique voice for the individual who created it. The Fox Theatre is beautiful, Dad’s Garage is a lot of fun, and the work coming out of the Center for Puppetry Arts is breathtaking—there’s a lot of variety here.

How did you get involved with Dr. Sketchy’s and become co-hostess of Atlanta’s branch?
I’m not an illustrator, most of my drawings look like stick figures, but when I was living in NYC, I thought it sounded like so much fun, and a place I’d be able to use my creativity in a different way. So when I moved to Atlanta I emailed them and asked if I could volunteer at the events. That’s how I met Lori and then became a co-conspirator for Dr. Sketchy’s Atlanta. I couldn’t be happier!

Victoria Hay as TITANIA. Photo courtesy of Lisa Stock.

You’ve also written, directed and produced a film called TITANIA, inspired by A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT DREAM. Can you tell us a little about that and when it will be completed? And doesn’t it feature the same lead actress as SNOW, GLASS, APPLES?
TITANIA is a retelling of the fairy tale of the “Armless Maiden” through Shakespeare‘s fairy queen Titania, as well as other characters from MIDSUMMER, as well as Greek mythology. I like to blend in various elements from traditional fantasy sources. I shot the prequel to the feature film last year—which you can watch online at www.TitaniaFilm.com. And I’m currently developing the feature—sort of deconstructing and reconstructing what I had originally written. It’s a tale of healing—after having her wings torn from her back, the fairy queen Titania, must go on a journey to become whole again.

Victoria Hay who plays Titania, has flown in from NY to play the queen in SNOW, GLASS, APPLES. I’ve worked with Victoria since 2007, and I’m absolutely thrilled she can be a part of this. Due to extenuating circumstances I had to replace my Queen late in the game, and it was a no-brainer to bring someone in who knows my work and my “shorthand” with only a few weeks to go to opening night. But everyone else is from here in Atlanta, and for my first production in my new town, I feel really lucky to have such exceptionally talented people on my cast and crew—they’re tackling difficult roles with a lot of fearlessness and good humor.

What draws you to mythic topics, and do you have any other mythic projects in the works?
For me, myths tell our own personal stories better than any other genre. Writing fantasy is not escapism. If anything, it heightens the challenges we face by setting them in a fantastic or exaggerated world. And seeing characters take on extraordinary feats inspires me and helps me to step outside myself to view the trials and triumphs in my own life. When something is filtered through metaphorical eyes, it makes me stop and see the situation in a new light.

I have two projects in the works for Atlanta. One will be a one-night production around Halloween that mixes The Gray Lady with FRANKENSTEIN with Brunel‘s THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL and Norse mythology—and again outdoors. The other one is an Internet radio show—in the works and premiering soon! You can hop on to my Website at www.InByTheEye.com for more info on both in the near future!

What’s next for SNOW, GLASS, APPLES? Are you planning to take it on tour beyond Atlanta or turn it into a film?
I haven’t thought beyond the run at EAVFM. I’ll take it all one step at a time.

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7 Responses to “Really Retro: Lisa Stock Explores an Older, Darker Side of Fairy Tales in Her Play of Neil Gaiman’s SNOW, GLASS, APPLES”


  1. Lori VanVoorhis
    on Aug 25th, 2011
    @ 6:23 pm

    Hi Anya, thanks for the mention. In case you wanted to make it a working link, my website is http://lorigami.com
    Beautiful writeup, thank you!


  2. Margaret Mortimer
    on Sep 1st, 2011
    @ 12:06 am

    This was a great piece Anya, I only wish I had found the time to read it before the play finished it’s run…..another note to self.


  3. Anya99
    on Sep 1st, 2011
    @ 12:12 am

    Thanks, Margaret! I wish you had, too. I hope that Lisa will find an opportunity to perform it here again.


  4. DM Holley
    on Sep 1st, 2011
    @ 12:19 am

    Really wish I could have made it to this… all conflicted with work. If there was a future run of performances I would certainly go. I like this story and have ever since I went to a reading Gaiman did of it at a horror con in ATL many years ago. The staging sounded intriguing.

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