Their parents would probably be encouraged to learn that the biggest challenge Ted Frey has faced in directing Alice in Wonderland is coaxing his young actors to be sufficiently rude.
The play being staged by Park Manor Public School is based more closely on Lewis Carroll’s book than the Disney movie, which Frey detests. He explains that there is a lot more nastiness in the story than people often realize. After going down the rabbit hole, Alice encounters a range of fantastical characters who tease, taunt and test her.
“This whole play is an essay on rudeness,” he said. “For the play to work, the kids have to find it in themselves to be rude on stage.”
Frey has loved the story for years, and saw it performed at the Stratford Festival a number of years ago. He hasn’t seen the 3-D version yet, but plans to after the school production has wrapped up.
Frey’s love of theatre started in his own student days at Park Manor: his Grade 8 class went to see Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Stratford Festival, and he was fascinated how six actors with a forest made of ropes, a bicycle and a dog could bring the story to life.
The shows start next Monday with a school performance, so rehearsals are in full swing. Preparations began in February, with the students reading through the play until it became clear which actor was best suited for each role. Two students are sharing the demanding role of Alice. The cast also includes four narrators, who help the audience understand what is going through Alice’s head so the play is more than just a parade of weird creatures.
And weird creatures there are plenty: the Cheshire Cat, the March Hare, the Fish Footman, the Queen of Hearts, the Caterpillar, and many more. All the creatures have cleverly-constructed masks that Frey made himself from masking tape and art teacher Ron Slemon painted. Frey estimates he’s spent between $200 and $300 on masking tape alone.
“It’s like papier-mâché without the mess,” he chuckled.
Altogether, the production will cost about $2,000, which will be recouped through ticket sales. Lighting and sound equipment are a big part of the expense, along with the laminate flooring used for the stage. This production isn’t using the usual gym stage, but a square of flooring surrounded by two rows of seats on each side – theatre in the round.
The format offers a few advantages: the kids can be heard without shouting or wearing microphones, and the audience can see everything, even when the actors sit or lie down. At the same time, it’s a challenge to make sure each scene is staged so the action takes place facing all directions.
They can seat 90 people for each performance, although they have room to squeeze in a few more seats. And they may have to do just that; on Wednesday, there were only nine tickets left. Shows for the public are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m.