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Stereotype-Defying Princess Project Expansion Takes Stories From Page to Stage

A princess who defends the skies of her city from pollution will be making her stage debut this spring as a project to diversify princess characters expands to the stage.

Actor and singer Giselle Austria; director Chari Arespacochaga; and Kristen Asada, president of the Model Minority Theater Troupe; listen to a University of California, Riverside, student audition for a role in "Princess Ten Ten and the Dark Skies." Courtesy of Guardian Princess Alliance

The Guardian Princess Alliance, which has released several books featuring a cast of multicultural, stereotype-defying characters, is scheduled to debut its first stage show this spring featuring Princess Ten Ten, a multiracial character who can control wind and defends her home from pollution.

Princess Ten Ten fights back against air pollution using her Tiandao wind powers Courtesy of Guardian princess Alliance

“We have an exciting new platform coming out this spring 2017 — the musical theater version of ‘Princess Ten Ten and the Dark Skies,’ our mixed ethnicity (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) and gender non-conforming wind master superhero,” Setsu Shigematsu, co-founder of the project, told NBC News. “As she fights air pollution, her story also addresses the issue of bullying of gender non-conforming kids.”

The Guardian Princess Alliance project was launched in 2013 with a mission to change “princess culture” by creating books and creative content for children that featured princesses that did not conform to traditional Western beauty standards, aren’t waiting to be rescued by princes, and take action to protect others and the environment.

The project’s latest book — the fifth in the series and released in November 2016 — is “Princess Leilani and the Lanu Tree,” co-authored by Samoan-American scholar-activist Juliann Anesi and Filipina-American creative writer Genielysse Reyes. A coming of age story, it features the series’ first full-figured and first Pacific Islander princess, a young woman who struggles with a disability while learning to become a healer.

The project also celebrates princesses who are smart and use their minds by including educational content tied to common core standards concerning science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and the environment.

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The new musical offers new educational and collaborative opportunities. The creators are working with students from the University of California, Riverside, where Shigematsu is a professor; as well as middle and high school students. The show will also include audience participation. Teach-ins, environmental outreach, and talk backs with the actors about air pollution are also being developed.

“In the musicals, we are hoping to not just support the story with song and dance and staging but also to give a sense of different theatrical histories and approaches from all over the world, according to the cultures represented by the different princesses,” Chari Arespacochaga, the project’s director of creative development, told NBC News. “[The musical is] also creating unprecedented bridge building between departments and student organizations on campus who are coming together for this workshop showcase, which we are excited about.”

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