SCT’s Courtney Sale on the Universal Appeal of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’

Courtney Sale Photo by Eva Blanchard.

Courtney Sale describes herself as a director who’s passionate about new work and devised theatre. As the artistic director of Seattle Children’s Theatre, Sale has directed adaptations of Black Beauty and The Little Prince. But her work isn’t just limited to theatre for young audiences. Sale proudly collaborates with a number of nationally produced playwrights, including Steven Dietz, Kirk Lynn and Allison Gregory. Encore had a chance to speak with her about the upcoming production of The Velveteen Rabbit at Seattle Children’s Theatre, a co-production with the Unicorn Theatre in London. The play runs November 1 to December 30 at Seattle Children’s Theatre. 

What drew you to The Velveteen Rabbit? Why this play now?

The Velveteen Rabbit is a story for multi-generational audiences always worth revisiting. For me, the play reminds us that love is a verb. The work of deepening kindness and compassion takes time, action and evolving understanding. Once we truly know those civilizing emotions, we can overcome anything—even if it means we experience loss.

I was at a funeral a few years ago where a religious scholar said the only way to take loss out of life is to take love out of life. That idea has stuck with me. As our world becomes more complicated and frightening, taking time to meditate on how to love one another is a radical act. The opportunity to gather in community and practice that idea across generations is wholly compelling. 

Ashley Byam as Boy, Christian Roe as Rabbit and Stephen Kennedy as Narrator in The Velveteen Rabbit
Ashley Byam as Boy, Christian Roe as Rabbit and Stephen Kennedy as Narrator in The Velveteen Rabbit at Unicorn Theatre

When did you become familiar with Margery Williams’ work? What is it about her writing that excites you? 

My mom read the story many times to me. Not only a fabulous parent, she is wonderful with children—one of her many gifts. My mom taught me how to treat young people. She was patient between each page, comforting in her voice and indulgent to every question I asked. The Velveteen Rabbit was one of the first books I read as a child that made me see my toys anew. I owned a few Care Bears and the night after I read the story I had to sleep with all of them tucked into my bed. I felt an indelible responsibility to make sure each of them knew how much I loved them! 

To me, what is exciting about Margery Williams’ language is that it takes the shape of the patience and generosity exhibited in the way my mom read to me as a child. The story holds a particular quality and slower time signature—something I find lacking in some of children’s entertainment today. 

The Velveteen Rabbit is directed by Purni Morell, former artistic director of the Unicorn Theatre in London. What drew you to Purni as a director? What was it about Unicorn that promoted you to partner with them on this play?

We are delighted to have Purni’s work on our stages at SCT. This is the first time we’ve worked together. What I love about Purni is her fierce intellect and uncanny sense of humor. We share a paramount value in that the work we make for children should flatter their intellect and imagination. This iteration of the play has received successful runs in both New York and London. We were thrilled we are able to bring the physical production from the UK to Seattle, as well as cast two local Seattle actors in the show. Those actors will rehearse in London in October. Like SCT, Unicorn Theatre holds a commitment to producing the highest quality work for children. We are like-minded in our dedication to new work. It’s a natural fit. 

What are you most looking forward to about this production?

This iteration of the story activates all the things I want in a theatre experience—rough magic, beautiful language, playful physicality, live music—all built upon a story with real meaning and substance. The ability to invite the audience in through multiple sensory experiences is always something I want to create in the theatre. 

Are there any female playwrights, directors, choreographers or musical theatre writers—working in Seattle or nationwide—that you’d like to shout out?

Absolutely! Seattle enjoys one of the most dynamic concentration of amazing female directors and playwrights in the nation. I am so inspired by the artistry around me. To name a few: Allison Gregory, Cheryl West, Karen Hartman, Desdemona Chiang, Rosa Joshi, Anita Montgomery, Valerie Curtis Newton, Elizabeth Heffron, Sheila Daniels, Jane Jones and the list goes on!

Is there anything else you’d like to share about The Velveteen Rabbit?

Whether you are young, recently young or previously young, this is a story for you. In the darkest time of the year as the days get shorter, it is such a great story to warm critical aspects of our humanity—namely, unconditional love.