Old Turtle and the Broken Truth—A Conversation with Sarah Sutliff


For the upcoming production Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, we spoke with Director and Choreographer Sarah Sutliff to discuss representation, why she chose to incorporate the traditional Māori Haka dance, and what young audience members could take away from the production.

Old Turtle and the Broken Truth was nominated for two 2017 New York Innovative Theatre Awards: Outstanding Musical, and Outstanding Choreography/Movement.


When Little One, the young girl and protagonist of the play, sees her village in trouble, she sets out to solve the problem and save the village. What are you hoping to achieve with your representation of a brave young girl? What can children learn from Little One? 

Little One serves as a familiar reference point for children to relate to the difficult themes explored in this musical. Like many of our younger audience members, Little One is a child who is also encountering discrimination, prejudice, and conflict for the very first time! Her sense of moral uprightness and justice are challenged by the behaviors and choices of the adults around her, and she is forced to make the choice between being bold or witnessing the destruction of her people. Little One shows us all that it’s natural to be scared, sad, or to feel helpless… but what matters is how you react to those feelings. Rather than sit back and watch injustices be done, Little One takes a stand: she seeks out the help of those more knowledgeable than her, she leans on the support of her friends, and most importantly—she doesn’t let fear nor frustration get in the way of doing the right thing. Through her persistence and unwavering sense of right and wrong (spoiler alert) Little One is able to save not just her own people, but others as well!

Another exciting component of the production is your use of Haka, the traditional Māori ceremonial dance. What attracted you to incorporating Haka? How does Haka fit into the world of Old Turtle and the Broken Truth?

I have always been attracted to the Haka. It is a physical manifestation of power and strength and, when performed well, can be quite terrifying! The original 2015 production of Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, at The Barter Theatre, in place of Haka employed actual stage combat—which is powerful and horrifying in its own right. But for me so much of conflict and war is about posturing—“our army is bigger,” “we have more weapons,” “our economy can support an extended period of combat,” etc. I was interested in incorporating the Haka in our production to show how much of war is presentational, how much is just about intimidation. The world of Old Turtle and the Broken Truth is timeless, almost folkloric in nature. The Haka is very primal and I believe it speaks to our basic instincts to intimidate those we perceive as “the enemy,” and speaks to our own sense of intimidation and fear.

Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, a Theater For Young Audiences production, explores the theme of War + Peace. For young audiences who attend the play— what lessons about conflict resolution and problem solving can they take back home?

So much of the conflict in Old Turtle comes from a sense of one group of people feeling superior than the other. I think the lesson we ALL need to take away from this musical is that through understanding and “reaching across the table” to people or groups different from us, we can rise above petty conflicts that come from fear and misunderstanding. In the words of Old Turtle herself, written by our incomparable playwright Catherine Bush, “Life itself will be mended only when one person meets another, someone from a different place or with a different face or different ways, and sees and hears… herself. Only then will people know that every person, every being is important, and that the world was made for each of us.”


Old Turtle and the Broken Truth

May 4 – May 19

In Old Turtle and the Broken Truth, a truth falls like a star from the sky and breaks into two pieces. When the villagers discover only half of the truth, it causes so many problems that Little One, a brave young girl, decides to search for the missing half. With the help of Old Turtle, and many animal friends, Little One is able to mend the broken truth and make it whole again creating a  better world for everyone.

Post Show Haka Workshop
Saturday, May 11 | 2:00 PM

Dance Battle: The Haka
Immediately following the performance, director Sarah Sutliff, along with the assistance of one of the performers, will teach kids the vocabulary of the haka dance and will together create their own Haka dance battle.

Free Pizza Party Pre-Show
Friday, May 17 | 5:00 PM

Join the cast of Old Turtle and the Broken Truth before the performance for a pre-show pizza picnic with the actors! Party will start at 5:00 PM on the stage.