Sponsor Spotlight: Neil Goldberg/Dream Studios

Neil Goldberg, founder and artistic director of Dream Studios, is a prolific, award-winning theatrical content creator and producer who founded Cirque Productions and Cirque Dreams – both now live under the Cirque du Soleil umbrella – and he also currently serves as president and CEO of Variety Arts Management and Dream Studios. We recently sat down with him to talk about his charming children’s book, POMP, SNOW & CIRQUEumstance, and the magical stage production it inspired. A native New Yorker, he’s lived in South Florida for the past 35 years.

You’re involved in a lot of community-driven organizations and events, many of them for kids. Where does that commitment come from, and what compelled you to support Miami Book Fair – how does our work support your philanthropic goals?

The support for Miami Book Fair probably stems from its engagement of children and the arts. That has been a mission of mine probably my entire career. My journey started when I was 7 or 8 years old when my mom took me to see my first Broadway show, The Miracle Worker, the story of Helen Keller. I was so fascinated by what I saw on stage that I remember afterward going into my mom’s closet, pulling out her shoe boxes, and trying to recreate the set. [both laugh]

Imagine my mom’s reaction when she saw her shoes scattered all over the house! But that sort of started my journey into this world of artistic expression and it taught me that what you see as a child, what you experience as a child, can really impact and set the course for the rest of your life. The fact that the Fair has significant programming for children and enriches the arts, that’s important to me, and so is having the book read as one of the centerpieces of this year’s Fair as a fun and learning and experiential event.

I chose to become an author of children’s books because that’s a full-circle thing for me; it brings me back to what inspired me and started my own journey.

I’ve had an interesting career, it’s like a roadmap – now I’m an author but I was a producer, I’m a set designer and a costume designer – and by sharing POMP, SNOW & CIRQUEumstance at the Fair, reading the story, introducing the characters, and presenting the stage show live at the Diplomat hotel in Hollywood in December, for me that sums up read-learn-imagine-experience.

“Read-learn-imagine-experience” – I love that; it very neatly encapsulates the Book Fair ethos.

I feel the same way! And it aligns with what my passions are, because Miami Book Fair isn’t just about seeing a bunch of books – there’s so much more. There’s all the activities and interaction and different forms of entertainment.

Tell me about POMP, SNOW & CIRQUEumstance the book. What inspired you to write it?

It was my pandemic project. My creative outlets during that time were writing, designing, and imagining the story of three best friends who study music, magic, and the circus at a secret university, and then go out into the world and share their talents. Creating a story set in an imaginary place with imaginary characters who have personalities that are relatable, that was really appealing to me. And I wanted the illustrations to paint the words into a visual picture that sparked kids’ imaginations, so they can envision all the possibilities of what can be.

This is your first book, and I believe it’s the start of a series.

Yes; the second book is actually being printed now. It’ll be released in 2024 and it’s going to be about holidays around the year with Pomp, Snow, and Cirqueumstance. In the first book they spend a year at that secret university and learn lessons about how to share their talents with others, and they also face some challenges along the way that they learn how to fix and get right. Then they go out during the holiday season.

When the holidays are over, Pomp, Snow, and Cirqueumstance in the second book go back to the university and are putting away all of their Christmas stuff, and there they meet a new character, Festina. Festina’s parents are Mother Nature and Father Time, and she has the unique power and ability to take Pomp, Snow, and Cirqueumstance through all four seasons of the year and show them all the holidays that exist throughout the world. It starts with New Year’s and includes Easter, Passover, Ramadan, Diwali, the Lunar New Year, Halloween, Mardi Gras – and when Pomp, Snow, and Cirqueumstance don’t understand the holiday or celebrate it with the proper traditions, she teaches them how to do it right and then turns back time so they can do it again properly. There’s a lot to learn about in the second book and I’m really proud of that.

The illustrations in the book are so beautiful. Tell me how you connected with the artist.

John Kelly is – I don’t even know if there are enough superlatives for me to describe his work. I knew very, very little about writing a book, let alone a children’s book, but what’s interesting about the world we live in today is connectivity through the internet and social media. I stumbled onto a website that offered work from illustrators for different projects. What I didn’t realize when I signed up on the site was that I was going to get submissions from artists from India, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Israel, Germany, France – it was so interesting!

There were very few responses from the United States, but one was from John. He’s based in North Carolina and is a former animation professor; he found that what I wanted to do was extremely challenging creatively, because the illustrations for me needed to look like set design – and there again, Elisa, we’re right back to my 8-year-old self! [both laugh]

But he just got me, he got what I wanted to do. We went back and forth, did some experimenting, and his attention to detail, his perspective and depth with color, was just spectacular – he actually animated the characters for me with old-fashioned, Walt Disney-style animation! When guests come to see the show at the Diplomat they’ll get the magic of that experience.

What can folks expect to see at the show?

The audience will sit on four sides facing the middle and the live action being adapted from the book will happen center stage. Around the entire perimeter of the audience, John has helped me – and we’re still in the process – John has helped me animate each one of the illustrations, and the illustrations will be video mapped and projected around the audience. So when you’re sitting in the theater you’ll feel as if you’re sitting inside the book.

Wow! So as you were writing the book – and I imagine you just couldn’t help yourself – were you staging the story in your head as you wrote it?

Yes; you’ve figured me out really quickly. [both laugh]

Well, I was looking forward to seeing the show before but now I can’t wait.

Interview by Elisa Chemayne Agostinho; responses have been edited for space and clarity.

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