"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Making Into The Woods Our Own

Community theaters get access to shows only after they have run their course on the professional circuit. We are constantly told people would LOVE to see us do Wicked or The Lion King, but we can't, they haven't been released to amateurs yet. This means the shows we produce have already been seen by, or at least become a bit familiar in a second hand way to, theater fans. They enter with expectations, not in the open-to-anything way they might go to see a show that's brand new to the world. This can present a challenge, as we simply can't do some of the things Broadway can, from a technical standpoint for sure, but even from an artistic standpoint. The last two shows Brunswick Little Theatre performed on the big stage at Odell Williamson Auditorium were perfect examples. Everyone has seen Wizard of Oz and they come to the show expecting to see familiar things. Beauty and the Beast is so popular on Broadway and as a touring show, that even those who haven't seen it know what it is "supposed" to look like. We strived to meet these expectations and I think succeeded pretty well, but it was fun this year to get a chance to break out a little bit.

Into The Woods is familiar to theater fanatics, a favorite of many, but less so to the general public. This gave us, and director Jen Iapalucci in particular, an opportunity to put our own stamp on the show. Jen possesses the most unique and wonderful form of creative intelligence I've ever run across in a person. She can imagine the most amazing things then figure out how to make them reality. This is why I call her Walt. She has a blog all about it, you should check it out. Jen took a hold of Into The Woods, an already amazing piece of art, and made it her own with two big additions. First off, she gave the whole show a Steampunk look with the sets and costumes. This turned out really well given the duality and sort-of-real/sort-of-fantasy feel of the whole show. The costumes are spectacular and the set is wowing audiences, so it's clearly worked. The Wilmington newspaper reviewer even liked it despite being "over" the whole Steampunk thing himself. The cast loves the way they look and that helps a show tremendously. Kudos to Jen and the whole set and costume crews.

But Steampunk versions of Broadway shows aren't unique. What really impressed me, and what makes this show really ours, is her addition of an all-ages (but mostly children) ensemble. The Broadway show features nothing of the sort. I never told her so, but I admire Jen's courage in doing this. It's really putting a part of herself on stage for approval. This grew out of Jen's very personal love for children and insistence on making them (including her own) a part of BLT's summer musicals. She was all-in on this, too. The ensemble wasn't
just layered on top of the show, she wove them into it. If it worked, the show worked, but if not, if audiences saw it as a distraction, it could have hurt the whole production. Jen created mini-scenes, little stories within the story, for the kids to act out. She used them to create special effects like the giant and the beanstalk. She used them to create mood and help enhance the characters around them (in one instance, for example, they are flowers that wilt as the Witch approaches). They aren't icing an audience can scape off and still enjoy the cake beneath, the are baked right in there. That was a risk, to be sure, but one Jen is uniquely qualified to take.
Most of the Ensemble in a publicity photo
The Beanstalk
Milky White, the hen that lays golden eggs and stolen giant's harp are all ensemble members

Watching this come together, I knew it worked just as Jen envisioned it. The kids took to their roles with gusto and skill and the adults allowed them right into the show with enthusiasm and understanding. I knew *I* loved it and "got" what was happening, but I wondered how a critic would see it. Would he be one of those who believed local amateur theater should be judged solely on how close to the original they could get? Or would he get it as I did? We got our answer in the Star News' review yesterday:

Iapalucci's decision to cast a chorus of kids bolsters the whole fairy tale angle. Children play the birds who aid Cinderella and they open green umbrellas on a staircase to create Jack's beanstalk. It's a winning idea, even if a couple of the young performers' roles aren't entirely clear. 

He got it. And that was nice. But I find what I like most about Jen's  additions to Into The Woods is that, even as personal and very "her" they are, they make the show BELONG to all of us in the cast and crew. This isn't Broadway's Into The Woods, it's Brunswick Little Theatre's Into The Woods.

And it's EPIC.

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