An Unsettling Wonderland – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

An Unsettling Wonderland

The 2014-2015 season of HWS Theatre continued with the opportunity to follow Alice into an unsettling Wonderland in a play that Time magazine called “an exciting, absorbing, vertiginous descent into a laughing hell.” Initially created by the Manhattan Project and André Gregory in 1970, “Alice in Wonderland” ran on campus during February 2015 in Bartlett Theatre.

Emerging from the experimental theatre movements of the late-1960s, “Alice in Wonderland” used an ensemble of eight performers to stage the mercurial madness of Lewis Carroll in a tour-de-force piece of physical theatre. It was directed by Assistant Professor of Theatre Chris Woodworth, who used her experiences training with the SITI Company at their summer intensive. Woodworth’s recent directing credits include “Radium Girls” for HWS Theatre and “And Baby Makes Seven” for Geneva’s Headless Sullivan Theater. Influenced by Kafka, Dali, Freud, and Jung, the production of “Alice in Wonderland” took a sinister turn and was not for young audiences.

“Gregory and the members of the Manhattan Project began with the premise, what if we told the story of Alice in Wonderland as if we were six children in a padded cell?” explained Woodworth. “That notion has been haunting me as I have grappled with how best to frame our production. There are several recent iterations of the story of Alice that have positioned her in some institutional setting. How might we embrace the zeitgeist of the moment without creating something that is derivative? My goal is for us to create a world that teeters between menace and whimsy.”

A photo gallery from dress rehearsal offers a glimpse into the production.

In the HWS Theatre production, Alice is trapped — in the institution and in the psychosis of her own mind where these stories are more real to her than the outside world. Woodworth and the cast are worked to develop the physical grammar of the piece, creating vivid images and dynamic movement. They worked with Denise Gabriel from UNC-Greensboro, who is a performance professor and movement coach, so that the performers were able to create iconic characters and actions using only their bodies and minimal set pieces.

“There are many surprises in store for the audience as we invite them to become participants rather than mere witnesses to Alice’s story,” Woodworth promised. “Bartlett Theatre will be transformed from its recent configurations and audiences will enter the space in astonishing ways.”

The cast included: Luis Figueroa ’18 (Cheshire Cat, Red King, Humpty Dumpty); Kathleen Fowkes ’18 (Cook, Red Queen, Dodo); Loren Hiser ’15 (Lewis, Mad Hatter, Caterpillar); Megan Musa ’15 (Alice); Sam Shaffner ’17 (Duchess, Mouse, Forest); Nicolas Stewart ’15 (March Hare, White Knight, Duck); Elizabeth Strano ’16 (Frog Footman, White Quee, Lory) and Natalie Young ’18 (Dormouse, Crab).

The production team included guest artists Derrick Vanmeter scenic and lighting designer and technical director; Bekah Frees Carey, costume designer; Kelly Walker, sound designer; as well as students Morgan Mayer ’16, stage manager; Shannon Savard ’15 and Will Conard-Malley ’17, assistant stage managers; and Clare McCormick ’17 as dramaturg.

Before the first Alice performance, HWS Theatre continued its Frame/Works series with guest scholar Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature Stephen Cope, who presented his talk, “On the Other Side of the Mirror: Madness, Marginality, and the Avant-Garde.”

Following the show, audience members were invited to join a post-show talkback with cast members and the creative team. Taken together, the pre-show lecture and the post-show talkback, “frame” a “work” of theatrical art.

Frame/Works is designed to draw connections between scholarly examination and artistic practice. Scholars are invited to present their research on a play, playwright, historical moment, genre or style in a pre-show lecture prior to a performance.

Tickets for “Alice in Wonderland” were available for purchase in the College Store and Area Records in Geneva in the weeks leading up to the show. For more information on any production, contact Woodworth (cwoodworth@hws.edu or 315-781-4581).

Related Links