For many years, Julie Andrews dreamed of creating a show with her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, which would impart an appreciation of the arts to children. This year she got her wish. The Jim Henson Co., famous for its Muppets, contacted Andrews and asked if she would be interested in partnering for a production with this very concept.
“My heart leapt,” Andrews told The Advocate. “I said yes! I have! And that would appeal very much, because both Emma and I are passionate advocates of the arts and try to speak for them whenever we can. So this was a no-brainer.”
Julie’s Greenroom, a new Netflix series, is the fruit of this collaboration. It premiered in March and is now introducing a new generation of young people to the magic of the theater as well as the behind-the-scenes of how it is staged. It’s the latest creative effort from the mother-and-daughter team, who together have written over 30 children’s books and produced several plays at a regional theater cofounded by Walton.
Andrews and Hamilton love working together for many reasons. “If you have about three hours, I could go over her many virtues,” Walton said of her mother, with a laugh. “Because we’re mother and daughter, because we’ve worked together for so many years, we intuitively know what the other one is thinking [and] feeling. We’re able to finish each other’s sentences. But we do have very different and complementary strengths.”
In addition to teaching kids, one of the reasons Hamilton and Andrews created Julie’s Greenroom was to advocate for the arts, particularly in an era when they are under attack. “They are the first thing to be cut in budgets and schools and of course at the administrative level,” Hamilton bemoaned. “So from our point of view, we really wanted to advocate for them, because we are so aware of how essential they are.”
The Trump administration infamously threatened to cut the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. Although the immediate threat to its funding may have passed, Andrews and Hamilton have a message for any political administration that is considering such cuts.
“Don’t! Please. Talk to anybody that is passionate about them and listen and learn, because I cannot imagine a world without them,” Andrews said.
Hamilton also referenced statistics from the NEA demonstrating the necessity of the arts in improving memory and practical skills like problem-solving.
“One of these statistics is, people who participate in the arts, especially as a child, grow up to be individuals who are more likely to vote,” said Hamilton. “And if that isn’t a reason enough to advocate for the administration to preserve the arts, I don’t know what is.”
“There’s no doubt that they help people understand each other and they transcend all barriers, and I cannot think of anything more important,” Andrews added. “They give so much joy and don’t really get in the way of anything [and lead to] getting on with a very wonderful, stimulating life.”
Andrews may be one of the world’s most famous actresses, known for classics like Victor/Victoria, The Sound of Music, and Mary Poppins. But for a moment, this renowned star was upstaged — by one of her show’s puppets. The crew of plush kids created by Jim Henson Company’s Creature Shop included a character, Riley, who is gender-nonbinary, a historic act of LGBT inclusion in children’s television.
“We tried to be as inclusive as we possibly could within the show,” Andrews told The Advocate, pointing to a differently abled character, Hank, as another example of representation. “Hank has a handicap and yet it’s not really a problem, and he manages his life wonderfully and contributes so much.”
“We really wanted all the characters to be as diverse as possible so that every child watching might see themselves reflected there,” added Hamilton, who revealed the addition of Riley has personal significance. “I have a transgender nephew on my father’s side of the family. So I’m extremely aware of how important it is to support and advocate for young people who are experiencing that in their lives.”
And how does Hamilton’s nephew feel about the inclusion of Riley?
“He’s actually in college right now and studying bugs, believe it or not,” said Hamilton. “I don’t know how many episodes he’s seen, but obviously, I think [he is] very grateful, as is the whole family — grateful that we managed to include a nonbinary character and all the characters.”
“And also, you know, we have a duck,” said Andrews, referring to Hugo the Duck, a beloved character she created for the show.
"The theater never discriminates!" exclaimed Hamilton.
Riley’s presence on a children’s show has gained added meaning since the election, which sparked a rise of bullying in schools of LGBT kids. The Trump administration’s rollback of protections for trans students has also left many fearful, leading transgender young people to call lifelines for support in record numbers.
Hamilton hopes Julie's Greenroom can send a message to those scared kids.
“Stay strong. Stay true to yourself and to who you are because there is community out there," she said. "It may not be in your town or perhaps even in your family, but you are wanted and you are loved and there are places in the world where you will be safe and supported. It’s really about who you are as an individual and a soul and not about who you are [regarding] gender or anything else. That’s the main message. Know that you are loved and valued.”
“That goes for just about anybody in this world,” Andrews added.
The pair also have a message for lawmakers who are passing transphobic legislation like “bathroom bills," which bars trans people from using restrooms and other facilities that correspond with their gender identity.
“Please keep an open mind. Please think,” Andrews pleaded.
“And do your homework,” added Hamilton. “Talk to these individuals. Understand where they’re coming from. Don’t assume that you know what the story is there and what the answers are. But really immerse yourself in the issue and the stories, the real-life stories of the individuals who are grappling with this. Because you may be surprised. Your eyes may be opened.”
When asked by The Advocate when the pair first realized they were allies of the LGBT community, Andrews and Hamilton could not respond — for a practically perfect reason.
“That’s hard to answer, because, just always!” Andrews replied. “Theater, anyway, is such an open community and free. I don’t think there’s been a time when I haven’t been [an ally].”
“I have to say, though, in my hometown, in my community, I was very aware of bias and bigotry, and couldn’t understand it,” Andrews continued. “I was raised not to be that way and not to think that way, and it always seemed puzzling to me that the world wasn’t just embracing human beings. But it’s never been something that I stumbled on. It’s just always been innate, thanks I think to the professions that I am in. But also the way I was raised.”
Her daughter agreed.
“That’s totally the same for me, of course,” said Hamilton. “I am my mother’s daughter. My father is a Broadway production designer, so I was steeped in the arts and the culture of New York theater, [and] in film and so forth. I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t, when I didn’t feel like the LGBTQ community was part of my life and part of reality.”
Through Julie’s Greenroom, Andrews and Hamilton wish to give this experience of enlightenment gained through the arts and theatrical productions to a generation of young people.
“That’s what we’re trying to convey — the wonder of them and the joy of them. It’s just so great,” said Andrews, who also imparts more technical lessons in her production. “One of the things I’m pleased about, about our little show, is that we can teach children literally some of the stage terms, theatrical terms, and what it’s like backstage, [being] at the front of the house and [being] backstage and what you can discover and the magic [it] can create.”
“There’s something for everyone. Even if you don’t sing or you don’t dance or you aren’t necessarily a performer, there is a backstage and there is lighting and set design. And there’s just even being an audience,” said Hamilton. To which Andrews added, “We try to teach good audience etiquette in very subtle ways,” which includes the silencing of electronic devices.
In addition to lessons for youth, Andrews and Hamilton hope adults will also learn a thing or two from sharing this viewing experience with their kids.
“I think that one of our hopes is that families’ curiosity will be sparked to go explore or perhaps even [visit] their own local regional theater, community theater, or art center,” said Hamilton.
“You may not be able to get to Broadway, but you can find something locally that’s trying very, very hard to embrace all of it,” said Andrews. “They might then tune in to their own kid, and their own kid’s individual interests, and actually see that their child is really sparked by the percussion episode or by ballet or by something like that. Then, perhaps, that will encourage them to explore that more or create more opportunities for them, to experiment with it a little bit.”
“If they mostly watch their kids very closely, then they very quickly realize where their passions lie,” Andrews concluded. “Just to expose them to the best of the arts is, I think, one of the best things.”
Julie’s Greenroom is now streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer below.