An original production is taking shape at the Glenwood Life Center. “The Adventures of Gingerella,” a “musical whimsy” written by mixed media artist Ginger Balizer-Hendler, of Glen Head, tells the story of a child’s transformational journey in a fictional kingdom where prejudice and war do not exist.
Balizer-Hendler, a former English teacher, has always had a passion for the arts. After she retired, she committed to art full-time. For more than 15 years she has exhibited her color-driven works in galleries across the North Shore, in Sea Cliff, Locust Valley, Great Neck, Huntington and Manhasset.
In 2013, she integrated her fascination with theater and design into her painting “The Adventures of Gingerella,” which was featured as part of the East End Arts Council’s 2014 JumpstART program to revitalize downtown Riverhead. She was inspired to create the work after seeing Philip Glass’s opera “Satyagraha,” loosely based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi.
“I worked for two weeks putting it together,” said the 72-year-old, “and in that painting there was the character of Gingerella, and she was kind of floating down into this peaceable kingdom of trees with different creatures.”
It then occurred to Balizer-Hendler that the story could bear new life once again, but this time in the realm of live theater. In 2016, she began working with Lesley Stoller, a musician from Great Neck, to transpose “Gingerella” for the stage. The two knew each other from the “musicians’ community” in Sea Cliff. Stoller co-composed the score with Kelly Schmidt, of Rockville Centre.
Director Patrick A. Reilly, of Freeport, met Balizer-Hendler 10 years ago through a production of David Ives’s “All In the Timing.” Reilly, a lawyer by day, said that “Gingerella” is unlike any production he has worked on.
“We have a living author, so we have the advantage of being able to turn to Ginger and say, ‘What did you mean when you wrote that?’” he said. “We can change the key [of a song] if the key doesn’t work, or rewrite the vamp that gets us into it, so that’s exciting.”
Also unusual is the format in which “Gingerella” is staged. The audience will observe the actors “in the round,” surrounding an oval stage on two sides.
The eight-member cast is a multigenerational group comprising residents from across the county who enjoy theater as a hobby while they work day jobs as therapists, hair stylists, teachers and sales representatives. Some were friends before rehearsals began, or knew one another through small-world connections.
“These people are originating a role, and a lot of this has been geared and retooled to feature the talents of the people we have,” Reilly said. “They bring their own personality to it, and that adds layers to what we do.”
Though the medium in which “Gingerella” is presented has changed, its message hasn’t. “The story is about peace and compassion, love and kindness, and not judging each other so harshly,” Balizer-Hendler said. “Bullying has become almost a trend, but if each of us were just a little kinder, I believe that we could change the world one tiny step at a time.”
Seeing her imagined world evolve from a painting to the page and now a full-blown production, Balizer-Hendler said, is an “out-of-body experience,” one she acknowledges she never thought she’d see to fruition.
“I thought I was done [creating], but the more involved we got, the more it became part of us,” she said. “It’s a very important piece of work that belongs out there, and that’s why it hasn’t stopped.”