|• Fall 2003||Magazine Archive & Search • Muhlenberg Home|
Unexpected ideas can mean that everything about a production changes. I received an e-mail from Brian in June. He’d done a lot of thinking about the show and had come up with what seemed like a crazy idea: he wanted to set the play in the attic of a large house. I remember actually laughing out loud when I read that sentence, then saying to myself, “Well, that will never work.” As I read the rest of his very long e-mail, I slowly became convinced that he actually had had one of those radical ideas that can make us look at a piece of art in a completely new way. But I was not going to let him get away with just an idea; I responded to his e-mail with one of my own stating that, while the idea was intriguing, I was not convinced that his concept for the show could carry the show in a way that the audience would find both understandable and meaningful. How would he deal with lines that characters had to say about not being able to see through the thick woods in an unfinished attic where the only “wood” was board lumber? How could he convince an audience that a giant was roaming through the land when the “land” was a room with walls?
I didn’t hear from Brian for a week or two, but then another of those amazing e-mails arrived; he’d thought it through and had answers for nearly all of my questions and challenges. I had also spoken with both Tim and Charles, who were intrigued enough by Brian’s initial e-mail – and confident enough of his ability as a young director – to let him run with his ideas. When we received the second e-mail, we knew he was on to something.
Compromise can be a tool for artistic innovation. Staff costumer Constance Case agreed to design costumes for the production, but she warned us that, with the small stage of the Baker Theatre and the confining space the walls would create, she would not be able to re-create the elaborate costumes she had provided for the Muhlenberg Summer Theatre’s 1997 production of “Into the Woods.” This was fine with Brian, who had already come up with new ideas based on his concept of objects that might be found in the attic of any large family. Instead of large ball gowns with hoop skirts which would make it impossible for an actress to walk through a normal sized doorway, Constance came up with gown designs that were more form-fitting, then accessorized them elaborately with furs and jewels to give the gowns their needed glamour.
“Into the Woods” is scored for an orchestra of 18 players. The department couldn’t afford to pay that many musicians for this production and the Baker Theatre orchestra pit only seats 12 so, as musical director, I took a long look at the score and decided that I could make the music sound just as good with half as many players. Then I called my good friend and talented arranger Vincent Trovato. He and I had a long conversation and he agreed to reduce the orchestration to nine players. We both knew it wouldn’t be easy, but the realities of our space and our resources demanded it.
Tim and Brian struggled with several design aspects for the production; having a solid vision doesn’t mean that everything will fall into place like pieces in a puzzle. Making a witch appear and disappear at will was a daunting task when there were no trees to disappear behind. The witch also had to pull off a split-second costume transformation, which meant more headaches for Constance. A major event in the play is the destruction of the woods by a giant. Without trees, how could we destroy an attic at each performance and then put it back together for the next show? As we continued to work on the play, answers began to present themselves.
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