Antioch School to present ‘Alice’
- Published: May 7, 2015
A children’s book that started as an improvised story to entertain a 10-year-old girl on a row boat named Alice is being staged by children of the Antioch School.
On the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Antioch School students will fall through the looking glass into a world they say is ridiculous, cuckoo, strange, creepy and confusing.
“Alice in Wonderland” will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday, May 1, and Saturday, May 2, at the Clifton Opera House located at 5 S. Clay St. in Clifton. Admission is free, and donations help offset the costs of production.
Officially, the play is directed by older group assistant teacher Sally Dennis and co-directed by older group teacher Chris Powell. But for students who largely self-direct their own learning, they are the actors, directors, tech crew, marketers and more.
This week students at the child-centered school were sewing costumes, hand drawing publicity flyers and honing in on their characters. In typical Antioch School fashion, students are involved in every aspect of the production, starting with choosing the annual spring musical by democratic vote and deciding who plays which role.
For the fourth, fifth and sixth graders in the show’s lead roles, “Alice” has presented some unique artistic challenges. How are they going to make the Cheshire Cat disappear except for his grin? How can the Queen of Hearts find interesting ways to scream “off with her head!” some 15 times? And how should Alice portray her state of constant confusion?
While Antioch School students are taking cues from the 1865 novel, the 1951 Disney animated version and the 2010 Tim Burton live-action rendition, they are also making the production their own, they said.
For Samantha Snyder, who plays Alice in one of the two shows, understanding the characters is the key to playing them convincingly on stage.
“It’s fun but it’s challenging because you have to know the person and know their background and history,” Snyder said. “You can’t be yourself, and you’re not trying to mimic someone. You’re starting over.”
The other Alice, Felix Buehrig, said he believes Alice has a strict mother, and while she tries to be polite, she gets increasingly frustrated by the strange world she stumbles into. Kata Ortiz Thornton, in the role of the Caterpillar, remarked on the challenge of playing someone entirely different than oneself, especially in the wild world of Wonderland, and said it’s important to “feel a connection to the character.” As for Carson Cooper, who plays a dodo bird, the role is a stretch, especially because he sings a song in the show.
“I find it very different because normally I’m not the excited person — I’m the quiet person,” Cooper admitted. “But I’m doing it anyways.” Meanwhile Olivia Ling, the Queen of Hearts, is expected to scream and threaten to chop multiple characters’ heads off with a level of “meanness” she said she will find difficult to sustain.
Above all, the process of embodying another personality, especially the wacky ones in “Alice,” is fun, students said. Sam Linden is honing a “squeaky accent” for the meek King of Hearts. Zay Crawford and Timmy Bold, as Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, are working on the comedic timing of their back-and-forth banter. Sarah Gansz is relishing her role as the mysterious and nonsensical Cheshire Cat, with which she looks forward to “smiling and creeping people out.”
As for the story’s underlying meaning, students differed in their opinions. While some say Alice was just dreaming, others believed it was more of an hallucination or that it really happened. As Lida Boutis, the Dormouse, explained, “Whether it’s real or it’s fake, you don’t know. And that’s the whole point.”
What lessons can be gleaned from Alice’s adventure? Sylvia Korson, who plays the Gryphon, says it’s simple: “Don’t fall through your mirror.” Buehrig said Alice might return to real life “completely relieved and more happy with the world she is in now than she was.” Galen Sieck, the White Rabbit Alice follows to Wonderland, said Alice is self-centered and possibly learns “don’t be rude to royalty,” but that the effect of the show is more to highlight ridiculousness than to teach a lesson.
Besides learning how to co-create a theatrical production, students said they gained skills in communication, understanding the emotions of others, public speaking and building. For Bold, the best part of the process has been using saws and knives building the sets, while he learned an important life lesson.
“I learned that everything needs duct tape,” Bold said. “If you have more duct tape, use it.”
After more than two months of work on the show, students hope for a good turnout and promise that the play will be funny, silly and above all, ridiculous.
“I think you should come,” Gansz entreated, then added, with her Cheshire Cat grin, “The play is in five years.”