Almost every child is exposed to Disney’s classic cartoon taleof a young and imaginative child named Alice.
However, as director Jeff Norton discussed TheatreUSF’sproduction of Alice in Wonderland, he said this isn?t a Disneyproduction.
There are no elaborate musical numbers or colorful costumes in thisshow. It is taken almost directly out of the original novel, written byLewis Carroll.
“Andre Gregory, a well-known stage actor and director, adapted the playfrom Carroll’s novel and it is told in poor theatre style,” Nortonsaid. Poor theatre is a very minimal approach that stems from thebelief (that is) essential to theatre is the creativity of the actor totell a story.”
Norton said the notion of poor theatre is about getting away from theproduction values used in spectacles such as Miss Saigon and Phantom ofthe Opera, and instead focuses on actually telling the story.
“You don?t need extra stuff if you?re telling the story well,” Nortonsaid.
It is creativity that makes Alice in Wonderland such a great story,because everything comes from a child’s imagination, according to Norton.
Norton encouraged his actors to revert to their childhood for thisproduction so they could communicate with the audience and bring theimagination of the patrons alive.
“This play asks the audience to look at the world through the eyes of achild,” Norton said. “A wonderful part of Alice’s character is hercourage and curiosity.”
When casting the part of Alice, Norton said he was looking for couragethat would shine through.
“There is a scene where Alice is three inches tall and she encounters acaterpillar,” Norton said. “Alice walks right up to this creature thatis as tall as she is and she isn’t afraid.”
The caterpillar encounter scene is just one example of how cast membersare used as the actual set in this production. The actor portraying thesoon-to-be butterfly sits atop the backs of three actors hunched overforming a magical mushroom while Alice talks to him.
Alice is, in fact, the only character that remains constant throughoutthe show. The other four actors interchangeably move in and out of thecharacters Alice creates in her mind.
“In the script, people would use umbrellas to create a forest, which isa very imaginative approach,” Norton said. “It makes you ask, ‘How wouldthis story be told by a group of children in a padded cell?'”
Norton has other theories about the production that may baffle the avidDisney fan.
“The theme is somewhere between a child?s imagination and a serialkiller,” Norton said. “If you look at the characters that Alice runsinto, a psychiatrist might suggest that these characters actuallyrepresent insane people. When you take out the Disney context and readCarroll’s novel, it would suggest that The Mad Hatter is actuallyinsane.”
Norton said the original writing did not tell a children’s story at all.And while the promotional flyer states “not recommended for children,”there is no nudity or foul language – it’s just not a children’s show.Norton said the show could be viewed as though the characters ofWonderland are out to “mess with Alice,” or “take her for a ride.”
“While the actors change characters around Alice, she just looks ateverything with wonderment but with courage at the same time,” Nortonsaid. “There is a certain courageousness that children have that we loseas we get older. Alice reminds us of that.”
According to Norton, because of the extreme physicality, it is importantthat the cast work well together and trust each other.
“The hard part is the spirit and desire,” Norton said. “And this casthas it.”
The cast is comprised of all seniors, with two men and three women.Lauren Olipra, who plays Alice, said the show is lot of hard work, andthe cast is like a family.
“We have worked together before and we all wanted to do somethingagain,” said cast member Billy Kieffer.
Norton was a student at USF in 1974 and said he and a group of friendsperformed this production and had a lot of fond memories of it.Errin Porter, who plays the Queen of Hearts during one point in theplay, said she loves doing the show.
“This is what we look forward to doing all day long,” Porter said.After Norton introduced the concept of poor theatre to his cast members,they said they really enjoy the approach.
“It’s an accomplishment when you tell a story without props,” said castmember Patrick Pizzolorusso. “Having the audience use their imaginationreally gets them involved.”
Dara Schottenfeld, who begins and ends the show as Alice’s sister, saidaudiences today expect special effects, but this play forces people touse their imagination.
Norton said it is a good evening of fun for the student rate of $4.
“I don’t think (TheatreUSF) is used enough by the students,” Nortonsaid. “If people will start attending, they will find an inexpensiveform of entertainment. And they will be delighted by this play.”
The show runs June 14-16 and June 20-23 at 8 p.m., and on June 17 at 3p.m. in Theatre 2. People are encouraged to sit on the floor as well asin seats.
It is 70 minutes long with no intermission.